Sourced under the DTIC’s Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP), the funding will be used to develop and manufacture “Next Generation” mosquito nets, using sustainable, biodegradable polymers in a collaborative project between TUT, CSIR, and AAC. In addition, AAC will invest a further R1.4 million in the project as a co-investment to bring the total investment to R16.3 million.
Dr Washington Mhike from the Polymer Technology Division of the Department of Chemical, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, the Principal investigator in the project at TUT, said the mosquito nets are to be deployed in malaria-endemic areas, where mosquitoes have developed resistance to traditional insecticides.
“The World Health Organization recommends using long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLIN) to prevent malaria. Donor funders purchase over 280 million mosquito nets and unfortunately, all these nets are made from non-biodegradable polymers,” he said.
Dr Mhike expressed concern regarding the insufficient number of environmentally friendly, biodegradable polymer-based products in the pipeline, highlighting TUT's commitment to reducing the negative environmental impact of current mosquito nets once they reach their end of life.
“Donor funders are providing incentives to innovators by allocating around 10% (approximately US$45 million) of their purchase budgets towards sustainable mosquito nets. The goal is to develop the 'next generation' of Long-Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets (LLINs) using sustainable and biodegradable materials," he said.
Dr Mhike further stated that the project is in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and aims to develop skills in fibre spinning and controlled release systems technologies for active agents.
Five students specialising in Materials Engineering have been approved to be part of the research team for the project, four PhDs and one Master's.
FEBE Executive Dean, Dr Grace Kanakana-Katumba shared her excitement and appreciation for the grant. “Dr Mhike’s work is highly commendable and the Faculty believes the funding will go a long way in optimising the University’s strategic commitment to conducting high-impact research that assist in producing future-ready graduates, who are refined and trained to make a positive societal impact,” she concluded.