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Better Lives, Better Planet: Increasing Comfort and Fighting Malaria by Using Solar Power

Feb 27, 2015
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There is exciting news in the ongoing fight against malaria. The Green World Health Net, in partnership with SC Johnson’s Base of the Pyramid (BOP) Group, and researchers from Tulane University's Center for Applied Malaria Research and Evaluation and the University of Switzerland-Basel's Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, will launch a malaria prevention project in Ghana called The Boko Project. The project, which is set to begin in March, has the potential to make a big difference in the fight against malaria in Ghana, Africa and around the world.

Better Lives

Malaria is a common and devastating problem in many parts of the world, especially in Africa. In Ghana, a country that has the same population as Texas, nearly 20,000 children die each year from malaria. Ghana is just one of many countries where malaria is endemic and many lives are unnecessarily lost to this preventable disease. Despite many advances, malaria is a problem that just won’t go away. But there’s hope.

bed netsThe Boko Project will focus on the use of mosquito nets, which are a proven and cost effective malaria prevention tool. There are a lot of nets out there, and countries where malaria is widespread have achieved country-wide or “universal” bed net coverage. In Ghana, where it is common for up to four people sleep in one bed, more than 12 million bed nets have been distributed.

While universal bed net coverage is a great goal to achieve, on average only 50 percent of bed nets are actually used. This greatly reduces the effectiveness of the nets for preventing and eradicating malaria. What our research shows is that one of the main reasons people don’t use their bed nets is because the nets are way too hot and stuffy to sleep under. The issue is that mosquito bed nets act like a screen and, like the screens on your windows, air cannot fully circulate in and out of the nets.

The goal of the Boko Project is to help solve the problem of air circulation preventing people from using bed nets.  The solution the team developed is a fan and a light placed inside mosquito nets. We think that having air circulation and light inside the nets will increase comfort and quality of life to the point that people will use the nets more. We aim to get bed net use rates above 90 percent, which is a lot better than what they are now.  The idea that if a tool or a product that helps prevent malaria can also be made to increase comfort and quality of life, then people will use it. And, if people are using it, in the case of our project, the rates of malaria will go down and lives will be saved.

Better Planet

Since many of the people at risk of malaria live in communities without electricity (almost 75 percent of Africa’s people live without access to electricity), it is important to have a way to power the fan and light consoles using “alternative” energy sources. The most economical way to do that is by using energy from the sun.

Each of the houses participating in the Boko Project will receive a solar system that includes a solar panel and battery to power the fan and lights that will be placed inside the mosquito nets.  We have discovered that for very little extra cost, we can also add some LED lights for the house so that people can cook, read, and live in a house with a sufficient amount of light. Currently, many people who live where there is no electricity use candles or kerosene lamps for their lights.

Assembling solar panels 

The Meaning of “Boko”

You might have been wondering what the “Boko” in the Boko Project is all about and why we chose this name for our project. “Boko” is a word in Twi, the most widely spoken native language in Ghana.  When someone asks you in Twi “how are you” one can answer “Boko”, “I am cool”, which, like in English, is slang for “I am well”.  We named this project the “Boko” Project because we believe it will help people stay well and will do this by literally keeping them cool. We think this project will result in better lives and a better planet, one in which malaria eradication becomes a real possibility. So next time someone ask you how you are, answer “Boko”… and then tell them your story.

Stay tuned for updates on the Boko Project here on the SC Johnson blog!

Photos courtesy of Peter Nardini, Green World Health Network.

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