A new lotion made of shea butter and DEET insect repellent could be the next line of defense in combating the deadliest parasitic disease in the world.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that is caused by a parasite. Its symptoms are similar to those of a flu, including fever, chills, and headaches, but it was responsible for an estimated 435,000 deaths in 2017 alone.
The innovative ointment, called Maïa, is one of the original products to come from the World Health Organization (WHO) Innovation Challenge. Gérard Niyondiko, co-founder and general manager of Maïa, is one of the challenge’s 30 finalists.
Lab tests showed that the lotion allows for six hours of protection against Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, which are the mosquitos responsible for spreading malaria. The lotion also provides three hours protection against Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit dengue, Zika, and chikungunya.
Franck Langevin, president of Maïa, joined the team about three-and-a-half years ago when Niyondiko was focused on a bug-repellent soap.
But when they conducted a study across 1,000 households and found that people didn’t actually use soap every day, they decided to shift gears.
“[We] learned that ointments are used on the right people,” Langevin told Global Citizen. “Kids under 5 receive … ointment on the skin every evening, exactly at the right time.”
And so they got to work.
“There is a wealth of innovators in Africa, brilliant African innovators,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, director of WHO Africa, said at the conference. “What I think is best about these innovators is that they have grown up in our systems, they know the bottlenecks … they really know the solutions and appropriate interventions."
Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria disproportionately affect communities living in poverty around the world. Sub-Saharan Africa is most affected by malaria — more than 90% of all malaria deaths in 2017 were reported there.
That is why innovative products like Maïa could be so beneficial. In areas of Africa with limited access to health services, a lotion could serve as an inexpensive health care tool.
Mosquito nets are an important part of malaria prevention efforts, but Langevin points out that with increased access to electricity and solar panels, people are outside of these nets for a longer amount of time.
"Now there’s a big question on how do you protect people outside the mosquito nets," he said. "We developed this product as a complimentary product [to bed nets] to help reduce malaria.”
The team at Maïa will conduct on-the-ground research in Burkina Faso and Tanzania and hope to have the lotion certified by the WHO as a vector control tool.
In order to keep costs down, the Maïa team works with a local cosmetics company. The price is about $2.21 USD for 200 milliliters, which is more expensive than most moisturizers in the area, but cheaper than most repellant sprays, which are sometimes too expensive for people in poor regions to buy.