Drones are taking the fight against malaria to the disease-carrying mosquitoes in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Malaria affects over 200 million people per year and kills about 500,000 of them. The disease has been a problem in Tanzania for a long time. During one of the more recent campaigns to fight Malaria, millions of bed nets were distributed in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. The aim was to break the cycle of mosquitoes biting infected people and becoming carriers of the disease, infecting more people. The bed nets have been very successful, reducing the number of infected people from 40% to less than 1% in some areas of Zanzibar.

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Drones have been very effective in fighting malaria

The Conversation reports that now epidemiologists and public health managers are looking for ways to further reduce the number of infected people by spraying the areas that the mosquitoes use to breed. This is where the drones come in. Aberystwyth University in Wales is working with the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme to fly drones over known malaria hot spots to find the small and shallow bodies of water that mosquitoes favor to breed and lay their eggs in. An off-the-shelf drone, like a Phantom 3, can scan a 30-hectare rice paddy in about 20 minutes. This represents a massive time-saving versus the traditional approach of people walking these areas to identify the breeding areas. After flying the drone, the video footage gets analyzed on smartphones and distributed to the teams who spray the shallow water bodies with low toxicity substances. This approach is far more precise and has less impact on the environment than using a larvicide like DDT that in the past would be used on the entire area.

Despite the obvious advantages of using drones to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes, there are also concerns, such as the invasion of privacy, disturbing wildlife, possible collisions with manned aircraft and the association people may have with drone being used for warfare.

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