African experimental houses that thwart malaria

It worked. They found that houses that were three feet tall attracted 40% fewer mosquitoes. At 2 meters it was 68% less and at 3 meters 84% ​​less.

“I was surprised at the scale of the impact they saw,” said Kelly Searle, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who was not involved in the study. Searle, who explored how building materials, like brick, mud and metal, themselves affect malaria transmission, says this level of reduction is convincing. “We are seeing very strong evidence that building housing can protect against malaria infection,” she says.

“It’s really important,” she continues, because mosquito nets and insecticide sprays are not enough. “If we could have some additional tools that we can use to prevent malaria, that’s fantastic. “

Adopting this design for new homes or renovations in real communities will be a challenge, however. “The number of people who will be influenced by [the academic studies] actually changing homes will be quite small, ”explains Patrick Kelley, vice president of the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter at Habitat for Humanity International. It is an obstacle, but it is not insurmountable.

One way to make large-scale changes for the growing population would be through building codes that could be enforced by local governments. But another would be changes in consumer behavior: tastes in homes that update as they learn which designs make sense – large, counterintuitive windows, for example, but with screens. “I’m more optimistic about the path of consumer behavior, putting knowledge in people’s hands,” says Kelley. “There are ways to get some of these messages out in home improvement markets where people go to buy wood – to buy screens. “

Lindsay agrees. “The way architects plan to make changes,” he says, “is to build something new and then get people to look at it and say, ‘Hey, that’s cool! And copy it. If local people see the appeal of these science-based designs, they will also be more likely to build this way.

Okumu believes the design is a more sustainable way to fight malaria than using commercial products such as bed nets, insecticides and drugs. The goal is simple: prevent mosquitoes from finding humans. “I’ve learned over the years that we have to go back to the basic biology of disease,” Okumu says. “And malaria is first and foremost a problem of substandard housing and surface water. “

Lindsay has a large clinical trial underway in Tanzania called the Star Houses Project, designed by team member Jakob Knudsen, a Danish architect, testing the resilience of two-story homes with breathable shade fabric walls, inspired by Southeast Asian designs. The study will run for three years and will track malaria transmission among children living in 110 Star Homes in 60 villages, compared to rates for others living in 440 traditional homes.

“They are really very beautiful,” says Lindsay.

Each house has beds upstairs for an airy filtered living space. The wind comes in, exhaled breaths escape, and mosquitoes, presumably, stay away. In the evening, the lights shine faintly through the translucent walls, but the house remains hidden from view.

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