Focus on Malaria dismisses the role of personal repellents

NO MO Foundation urges the public health community to see the disease reduction potential of repellents

We are a small public health foundation that wants to reduce mosquito-borne diseases in Africa. However, the tool we have developed to do that has been overlooked by the global public health community. That tool is a high efficacy, non-toxic repellent lotion called NO MO, and evidence from many laboratory and field trials shows that, if distributed en masse, this repellent could cause a significant reduction of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue.

Although the WHO has recommended repellents to travelers for years, many epidemiologists — some influenced by the Gates Foundation’s agenda of “total malaria elimination” — have excluded a role for such products in global malaria or dengue reduction efforts.

Indeed, the focus in the scientific community since 2007, when the Gates Foundation proclaimed that malaria eradication was a goal, has been on finding ‘magic bullets’ that would support that objective. For instance, billions have been invested in intervention strategies that favor biocides (for ITNs and IRS). However, evolutionary adaptation by parasites and vectors has rendered these biocides less effective over time, and R & D pipelines have difficulty keeping pace with that. Additionally, other methodologies under development, like transgenic mosquitoes or recombinant vaccines, will not be effectively deployable for years.

The NO MO Foundation has tried to encourage major funding institutions to look at research on their repellent’s disease reduction potential and to help with further field trials and distribution. But their responses, like that of the Senior Program Coordinator for Malaria at the Gates Foundation, have not been encouraging:

‘Although topical insect repellents can have a significant effect on malaria transmission, our current strategy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does not include them as an intervention that will be useful for malaria elimination. Our reasoning is that trials to date have not been able to achieve a situation where topical repellents sustainably provide community protection. Your product and the trials that you are undertaking may overcome that barrier and we hope that you make that significant achievement. In the meantime, we do not plan to invest directly in development of topical repellents as a stand-alone vector control intervention, nor in the distribution of topical repellents.’

This statement points to an unfortunate reality: the current bias of dominant funding institutions dictates which malaria intervention tools are acceptable and which are neglected. In fact, intervention choices and funded research have been strongly affected by an exclusive focus on eradication of malaria, and simple tools like the NO MO repellent are often dismissed and not funded. In that context, we ask an important question:

“While we wait for malaria to be eliminated, by some tool that’s not yet on the horizon, should we not at the same time try improving public health where diseases like malaria and dengue cause severe suffering? Empowering disease-endemic communities to protect themselves with a highly effective repellent lotion would allow them to reduce the burden of serious disease right now without waiting for the promise of malaria eradication to materialize. In a short time, this could improve the lives of millions.”

Though one might question if it’s realistic, the eradication of malaria is nonetheless a noble goal. However, in the interim, public health leaders should not ignore interventions that could greatly suppress vector-borne diseases, rather than eliminate them. Simple tools, like NO MO repellent, could offer a powerful and sustainable means of reducing those diseases.

About NO MO Foundation:

The Foundation’s goal is to reduce mosquito-borne disease in the poorest communities of Africa by distributing, on a non-profit basis, a high-efficacy repellent lotion called NO MO. In fact, royalties from licensing the repellent patents and contributions from donors are currently funding the product’s distribution below cost to disease-endemic countries in Africa.

To learn more about the Foundation visit: www.nomofoundation.gives