Dengue is a viral disease that in the past 30 years has spread from its original home in SE Asia to over 130 countries worldwide. The mosquito that transmits it has adapted to living with man, thriving on human blood and breeding in all types of man-made containers. This species has benefitted from the explosive growth in human populations and their desire to seek better lives in tropical cities. The slums and shanty towns that surround these cities provide a plentiful supply of dengue-susceptible humans and container breeding sites, particularly the oil drums and water barrels used by poor households to store water and the discarded bottles and cans of neighbourhoods from which rubbish is never collected. Global warming has provided a further boost to the dengue mosquito by providing higher temperatures and plentiful rainfall to fill the receptacles and allow mosquito larvae to develop into adults more rapidly. Given that the dengue mosquito is active in daylight, mosquito nets offer no protection and control involves adding insecticide to the containers from which millions of people obtain their cooking, drinking and washing water.
Brazil alone spending over $1bn to control dengue
Dengue is the most important mosquito-borne problem in some of the most populous countries in the world, including India, Pakistan and Indonesia. Although dengue is present from the US to Argentina, Brazil accounts for about 75% of all cases in the Western Hemisphere. Despite spending over $1 billion annually on its dengue vector control programme, Brazil has the highest economic losses caused by this disease ($1.35 billion/year) due to direct medical and nonmedical costs as well as indirect costs from loss of work. Cost-effective methods of vector control are badly needed to decrease the huge economic effects of this disease.
Current methods are failing and no-one should be forced to drink insecticide on a daily basis
Dengue is second only to malaria in terms of the number of human cases worldwide each year – 390 million, with 40% of the world’s population under constant threat. Given that mosquito nets are useless against a day-flying vector and repellents are too impractical and potentially unhealthy for daily use, people in dengue-endemic areas must rely on public health authorities to protect them. They can participate in control measures by maintaining their homes and immediate surroundings free of receptacles that can fill with rain and be used as breeding sites by the dengue mosquito but the most important of these sites are often the water barrels and oil drums used to store water in neighbourhoods where there is no regular supply for drinking, cooking or washing.
Public health authorities in countries where dengue is a problem may employ space spraying with insecticides such as malathion – a highly visible but ineffective measure that is particularly unpleasant for asthmatics. However a more effective method is to add chemicals such as the temephos to storage containers, in sachets that gradually leach a lethal dose of the insecticide into the water over a period of six months, after which they are replaced. There is currently no evidence that exposure to the “safe” doses involve produce health problems but long-term exposure to similar chemicals by other means has been linked to neurological conditions such as Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s disease. In any case, no-one should be forced to drink insecticide on a daily basis.
We at Xeroshield have a safer, more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution. Our WaterWaspTM device is a small, robust and autonomously powered device that can be added to water containers to kill any mosquito larvae already present and prevent others from developing, without releasing any chemicals into the water. It requires no maintenance, switches on and off automatically and remains effective for a period of six months, after which it is replaced by another device. Retailing for a few dollars per unit, there are no additional costs associated with transport, storage and handling. Although public health authorities would be involved in distributing the device to ensure blanket coverage (in the same way as they currently distribute temephos sachets door-to-door) they will not require training in WaterWaspTM use. The distinctive design of the device will ensure it is not appropriated for other purposes and will make it equally acceptable for use in any of the 130 dengue-endemic countries worldwide.
We propose to seek licensing agreements with several manufacturers in countries where dengue is a problem, who would produce the device in bulk and pay royalties on every unit sold. These companies (already involved in healthcare) would be our main customers for WaterWaspTM. Because dengue control depends on blanket coverage of districts where transmission occurs, we see the ultimate users of the device as being public health authorities who would buy large numbers of units for distribution by their existing personnel, rather than the general public; members of any household that maintained its own environs free of mosquito breeding site could still be infected by insects that developed in the neglected yards of their less fastidious neighbours. Firms involved in large-scale construction projects and tourism would also provide markets for WaterWaspTM. Given that no pesticides are involved, its use could be implemented very rapidly; for the same reason resistance in mosquito populations will not be a problem, extending the foreseeable life of the product indefinitely. Even development of a vaccine would not resolve the biting nuisance represented by dengue mosquitoes or their role as vectors of other pathogens such as Chikungunya virus or yellow fever.
Rapid return on investment
Besides their safety and environmentally friendly credentials, our technologies have a number of advantages to investors seeking a relatively rapid return on their investments. Unlike pesticides, drugs or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) neither of the two products detailed above requires lengthy development costs or times. Given adequate funding, they could both be on the market within 2-3 years. We would seek licensing deals in the order of at least 5-10% of the sale price per unit, i.e., up to 50c per WaterWaspTM sold.
Earnings from royalties would be used in part to develop other products, all under the same philosophy of providing safe, environmentally friendly technologies that could be introduced onto the market rapidly in as many areas as possible.
If you’d like to be involved, check out our pitch – we hope you’ll join us.