Under the mango tree
Helping those at the bottom of the economic pyramid fight hunger and disease is becoming an increasingly ingenious enterprise. Take the eave tube. This simple plastic pipe contains a remarkable mosquito-killing gauze fitted into the walls beneath the roofs of African houses. It’s one of several life-saving innovations to be born underneath the mango tree, thanks to Dr Bart Knols and a team of more than 40 researchers from five countries that he orchestrated for a unique EU-funded project.
As a renowned authority in malaria, Bart Knols got tired of writing research papers about mosquitoes without putting that knowledge into practice. So he decided to do something about it.
Although not an easy decision when a glittering and comfortable career in academia beckons and you have a family and mortgage to consider, Bart raised all-important funding from the EU and put together a team for the development of simple and affordable new tools to combat mosquitoes.
To help brainstorm ideas he and a team of scientists flew out to Tanzania, where the disease is rife. Rather than including a team full of entomologists like himself, Bart instead gathered experts from various unrelated fields, with different ideas and backgrounds. And together, they did their thinking and talking…underneath a mango tree: Very fruitful it proved too.
The result was the simple eave tube. Today, more than 1,500 homes in Tanzania and more than 3,000 houses in Ivory Coast have been fitted with eave tubes, protecting thousands of families in both countries. Tubes are reducing the number of malaria mosquitoes indoors by 85-90% and the first results from the epidemiological trial in Ivory Coast are highly promising. “For the first time in a very long time people tell us they are sleeping more peacefully at night,” says Bart.
Today, he is back in the academic world where it all started, now at the Radboud University. Says Bart: “What we did on a small scale I now hope to see on a much larger scale within the University by motivating students to embark on research in this field”.