New sensor could dramatically improve fight against malaria

Many thousands of malaria deaths could be averted thanks to new sensor technology being developed in the UK.

The hand-held sensors offer a cheap and quick solution to a dilemma which has plagued public health authorities for years regarding the spraying of anti-malarial insecticides.

The device, developed by Liverpool John Moores University and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine will shortly undergo a full-scale trial in India and parts of Africa after winning backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We’re hoping this will be a game-changer, not only against malaria but also other killer diseases in the developing world,” said Dr Patryk Kot, reader in sensor technologies at LJMU.

Household spraying

Insecticide is a major weapon* in the global war against malaria-carrying mosquitos and sand flies the Indian government alone has 2,000 teams who regularly visit villages to apply insecticide to the walls inside houses. A 2015 study estimated that between 2000 and 2015 some 63 million malaria deaths were averted due to this indoor residual spraying (IRS).

The amount of spray applied by these teams is critical to eradication of the diseases. Too little spray will fail to kill the insects, too much spray can cause health problems.

Yet current methods of checking walls - via liquid chromatography (HPLC) and cone bioassays - are expensive and require skilled staff, laboratories and specialist equipment, a situation made worse by the fluctuating costs of insecticides.

Tests with a prototype sensor have already had an impact on reducing the disease Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL), otherwise known as ‘Black Fever’ in India, and the research team now aim to adapt the equipment to work with a range of insecticides. 

The handheld sensor, providing an LED light reading at the point of use, has helped authorities to better target sand flies and mosquitos which spread the disease, contributing to a 90% drop in VL transmission and zero deaths from the disease in Asia in 2019.

Prototype to product

Added Dr Kot: “This project will transform the current prototype to a more flexible final product that will be validated by end users to assess market utility and demand.

“We are hugely grateful to the Gates Foundation and it is an absolute privilege to work with them and LSTM to address these challenges and see how this technology can potentially save lives.”

*Indoor residual spraying (IRS) is one of three WHO recommended strategies for malaria control; the others being bed nets (ITNs) and prompt treatment with artemisinin-based therapies.


- Patryk Kot is working along with Professor Andy Shaw, Dr Magomed Muradov, Dr Omar Aldhaibani and Dr Ghulam Mohi-Ud-din of the Built Environment and Sustainable Technology Research Institute at LJMU.


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