It is estimated that over half a million people are infected with malaria every year in Africa.
The usual methods of preventing this result in the use of mosquito nets, sprays and anti-malaria tablets -- when they can be afforded -- but now a scientist from Cornell University and a designer from Africa have come up with another solution.
Kenyan Frederick Ochanda, postdoctoral associate in Cornell's Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, and Matilda Ceesay, a Cornell design undergraduate from Gambia, collaborated to design a hooded body suit prototype to provide extra protection against mosquitoes that often carry the malaria virus.
Imbued with insecticides at the molecular level, the garments offer the same protection as commonly-used mosquito nets --but the latter are not practical to wear during the day, and protection vanishes within months.
The designers bound repellent and fabric by using crystalline compounds laced through metal organic framework modules, it is possible to load the material with up to three times more repellent than common mosquito nets -- of which protection wears off after six months.
"The bond on our fabric is very difficult to break. The nets in use now are dipped in a solution and not bonded in this way, so their effectiveness doesn't last very long."
The garment made its debut on the runway at Cornell's Fashion Collective spring fashion show on April 28. It consists of a one-piece body suit -- dyed in a range of vibrant colors -- and a mesh hood and cape combination imbued with the bonded repellent.
Both have watched family members suffer from the disease. Ceesay recalled seeing a family member pass away after being misdiagnosed. As malaria is so common, even if someone is ailing from something else, this health problem is assumed -- sometimes with fatal consequences as valuable time is lost to treat an individual.
"Seeing malaria's effect on people in Kenya, it's very important for me to apply fiber science to help this problem," Ochanda commented.
"A long-term goal of science is to be able to come up with solutions to help protect human health and life, so this project is very fulfilling for me."
Ultimately the designers hope that the prototype garments may serve as inspiration to drive new, innovative solutions to control the spread and reach of malaria infection. As a minimum, the team hope that the particular method they used to imbue the insecticide could result in the development of long-lasting bed nets. Ceesay concluded:
"Although there are already mosquito nets being used, the solution isn't foolproof. People are still getting sick and dying. We can't get complacent.
I hope my design can show what is possible when you bring together fashion and science and will inspire others to keep improving the technology. If a student at Cornell can do this, imagine how far it could go."
Image credit: Mark Vorreuter