Fight against malaria  //  Sustainable manufacture of insect repellents in Africa for Africans


A new biopesticide has been approved by the US EPA that can be used as an insect repellent. It is manufactured from the catnip plant that is currently cultivated throughout the world. The first step of this project will be to evaluate the interest and infrastructure of Burundi to cultivate catnip and manufacture the biopesticide. The budget for the entire project may be on the order of $20 million. An international conference will be held in Burundi from October 14-16, 2010 to initiate the project.


Africa is besieged by a malaria epidemic that is devastating the sub-Saharan population. Between 350 and 500 million clinical cases are diagnosed every year according to the World Health Organization killing over 3 000 people a day most of which are young children – as much as 90% of the deaths are recorded in sub-Saharan Africa. The most serious form is caused by plasmodium falciparum that is transmitted by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. While the disease is commonly associated with poverty, it also causes poverty thereby hindering economic development.

The risk of contracting malaria rose from 10% in the early 1960s to over 40% as the mosquitoes developed resistance to pesticides and the parasites developed resistance to the anti-malarial drugs. Hence, there is an urgent need to reduce transmission rates. Present techniques rely on distributing mosquito nets to homes, insect repellents, spraying insecticides inside homes and draining standing water.

DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) is known to be the most effective and long lasting insect repellent. Recently, however, its general use has been restricted due to health concerns related to toxicity, especially toxicity in children, the most vulnerable population for malaria. Application of DEET over cuts, wounds or irritated skin should be avoided as well as for children younger than 6 months old (USA EPA). Children between 6 months to 24 months should receive no more than one application per day and up to 12 years old the maximum number of daily applications should not exceed 3 (concentrations of DEET should be less than 10%). Alternative insect repellents exist – such as para menthane diol (PMD), citronella oil – and are under development with lower toxicity but cost remains a critical factor.

Poor families afflicted by malaria in South America, direct and indirect costs may represent up to 20% of the total household income [1]. The total cost of treatment is as high as $240/y ($2007) in Peru while the yearly cost of repellants may be as little as $10/y.

Insect repellents are derived from either petrochemicals or natural oils such as citronella or PMB (from eucalyptus trees). Manufacturing costs may be elevated from petrochemicals due to the multiple steps of reaction and refining. Citronella is limited in effectiveness while the environmental impact of eucalyptus plantations in non-indigenous regions is severe.

There is a pressing need to develop and manufacture a sustainable insect repellent that is both effective, non-toxic and within the reach of impoverished households in the sub-Saharan Africa.

Top New biopesticide

In 2009, the EPA approved the first new biopesticide since 2001. The repellent is based on oil derived from the nepeta cataria plant. The plant is better known as catnip. Although rubbing leaves directly on the skin is as effective as DEET in warding off insects, a component in the plant will sensitize the skin. In order to become effective, a compound in the plant – nepetalactone – must be extracted from the plant.

The nepeta cataria plant is cultivated throughout the world and will adapt readily to the sub-Saharan climate. The extraction process of the oil involves steam stripping. After decanting the oil from the water, the oil may be blended with other vegetable oils and packaged into various forms – creams, lotions, soaps, etc.

The entire process – cultivation, oil refining,decantation, and packaging may be entirely conducted in Africa, by Africans for Africans. Burundi has been selected as an ideal country with which to develop a commercial venture. The neighboring countries will also be solicited to grow the catmint plant such that the effort has a positive impact on the entire region.

In the context of a country like Burundi, protecting its population from insect bites is a critical factor in reducing health costs for treatment and for drugs. Moreover, this project requires an active participation of the population – the main Burundian commercial activity is agriculture and thus the nepeta cataria plant would be cultivated in the country. Once sensitized, to the importance of this project, Burundians would feel proud to participate in the fight against the greatest threat of the public health.

Top Program Partners

The most important partner in this venture is ACECI [2] – an organization that focuses on human factors related to the challenges facing the world today like poverty, disease, sustainable development, the environment and multi-lateral relationships.

Since 2008, ACECI launched a campaign in order to “translate the Millennium Development Goals” into types of laws to reduce of poverty. The sixth millennium goal is to fight HIV and other diseases. This objective underscores the importance attached to the fight against AIDS but perhaps to the detriment of the fight against the malaria (paludism). International partners tend to invest in the fight against AIDS but, in Burundi, malaria kills more quickly and in greater number than the AIDS.

ACECI supports field studies including:

  • Establishing contacts and appointments
  • On-site evaluation
  • Project follow-up
  • Ethical evaluation
  • Research

Field studies help identify the needs for the project including governmental (permits, for example), societal and industrial. Thus far, ACECI is organizing meetings with the following individuals to better understand the project needs and the desires of the eventual partners.

In our first trip to Burundi, we were able to meet with people at many levels – government, diplomats, UN representatives, non-governmental groups and industrialists, including:

  • Hon. Minister Manirakiza , Planning and Reconstruction
  • Hon. Minister H. Mossi, East-African Community Affairs
  • Hon. Minister I. Kibeya, Higher Education and Scientific Research
  • Dr. N. Birintanya, General Director of Health
  • Ambassador J. Smets, Belgium
  • Ambassador L. Mulamula, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region
  • Dr. J. Cabore, Representative, World Health Organization
  • Mr. S. Diabate, Deputy Representative, UNICEF
  • Mr. M. Kuntze, CEO, Savonor
  • Mr. R. Henry de Frahan, CEO, Rudi Paints
  • Abbe Alphonse Ndabiseruye Director, Diocesan Office of Development
  • Mr. S. Karabaye, Director, Burundi Commercial Society Ltd.

Building facilities to extract the oil from the plants is relatively standard technology. During the field trip, the state of the chemical industry in Burundi was examined. With respect to cultivation and extraction, Burundi practices this technology for both palm oil and patchouli (essential oils). The agricultural sector is supported by agronomists trained in Belgium as well as in universities in Burundi. They have certain project capabilities as demonstrated by plant expansionsn of several commercial companies.

Top Budget

The initial budget for a field trip to assess the infrastructure of Burundi and potential partners was on the order of 50 k$, covering travelling expenses as well as costs incurred by ACECI, consulting fees etc. The entire project may be on the order of $20 million.

As the project becomes well defined, a detailed plan will be developed together with expected costs.

Top References
  1. S. J. Moore, S. T. Darling, M. Sihuincha, N. Padilla, G. J. Devine. A low-cost repellent for malaria vectors in the Americas: results of two field trials in Guatemala and Peru, Malaria Journal 2007, 6:101.