Any tropical disease expert will tell you that the best way to avoid getting malaria is to not get bitten. But with the rainy season quickly approaching, malaria-bearing mosquitoes are going to be multiplying all across Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that this fever-inducing parasite claimed 395,000 lives on the continent in 2015 alone; it is especially deadly among children under five, the elderly and pregnant women. Just this February, Rebecca “Mama Masika” Katsuva, the Congolese heroine who spent decades standing up for the victims of war-related sex crimes, succumbed to the disease.
So it is especially exciting to see some of Africa’s sharpest minds go to work in search of life-saving solutions. Enter Moctar Dembélé of Burkina Faso and Gérard Niyondiko of Burundi. The two former students made history in 2013, when they beat “650 competitors from nearly 40 countries” to become not only the first Africans but the first non-American team to win the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC).
Their brilliant idea? Faso Soap – a malaria fighting soap they invented using shea butter, citronella and other insect-repelling herbs sourced locally from Burkina Faso. The inventors say they chose soap as a way to protect a wide variety of users because it is low cost and widely used by people of all backgrounds, so it doesn’t require people to accept a whole new behavior:
“In our country the majority of the population lives below the poverty line,” Niyondiko explained to CNN, “so we thought of a repellent and larvicidal mosquito soap which will be accessible and affordable to the majority of the population, seeing that soap is a commodity product and especially not going to add other additional costs to the population.”
The soap is designed to leave an insect-repelling scent on users skin after bathing; dirty water containing the soap residue will also drive mosquitoes away from standing water, which is a popular breeding ground for the bloodthirsty pests. “Our soap will fulfill the desire of the population to be clean, as well as protect them from malaria, without any additional cost to them,” Niyondiko added.
Watch the Faso Soap winning pitch video:
According to the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, the Faso Soap team won $25,000 for the grand prize and another $1,500 for the Center’s People’s Choice Award. The product has been awaiting clinical testing since that time to prove its safety and effectiveness before it can be distributed to the public.
Three years later, Niyondiko, who studied at Burkina Faso’s International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering, has teamed up with a Stanford graduate and a social entrepreneur to launch “100,000 Lives” – a crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising $113,000 to cover the cost of product testing and development. “Our goal is that our soap is widely distributed to reach the largest possible number in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world affected by malaria,” says Niyondiko.
With nine days remaining in the campaign, supporters have already exceeded the first fundraising milestone, but there are two milestones left to the project’s most ambitious goal: a laboratory dedicated exclusively to Faso Soap research. Developers hope to complete testing in time to introduce the soap by 2018. Let’s hope Faso Soap turns out to be the miracle that so many have been waiting for.