Scientist, designer create bodysuit to fend off malaria

A scientist and a designer have created a fashionable hooded bodysuit for warding off mosquitoes carrying malaria parasites, a disease that kills 655,000 people annually on the African continent.

Though insecticide-treated nets are commonly used to drive away mosquitoes from African homes, the Cornell University prototype garment can be worn throughout the day to provide extra protection and does not dissipate easily like skin-based repellants.

By binding repellant and fabric at the nano level using metal organic framework molecules – which are clustered crystalline compounds – the mesh fabric can be loaded with up to three times more insecticide than normal fibrous nets, which usually wear off after about six months, according to a university statement.

“The bond on our fabric is very difficult to break,” said Frederick Ochanda, postdoctoral associate at Cornell’s Department of Fibre Science & Apparel Design and a native of Kenya.

“The nets in use now are dipped in a solution and not bonded in this way, so their effectiveness doesn’t last very long,” said Ochanda.

The colourful garment, fashioned by Matilda Ceesay, Cornell apparel design undergraduate from Gambia, debuted on the runway at the Cornell Fashion Collective spring fashion show April 28 on the Cornell campus. It consists of an underlying one-piece body suit, hand-dyed in vibrant hues of purple, gold and blue, and a mesh hood and cape containing the repellant.

The outfit is one of six in Ceesay’s collection, which she said “explores and modernizes traditional African silhouettes and textiles by embracing the strength and sexuality of the modern woman”.

Ochanda and Ceesay, from opposite sides of the continent, both have watched family members suffer from the disease. Ceesay recalls a family member who was ailing and subsequently died after doctors treated her for malaria when she had a different sickness. “It’s so common back home, you can’t escape it,” Ceesay said.

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“Seeing malaria’s effect on people in Kenya, it’s very important for me to apply fibre science to help this problem,” Ochanda added. “A long-term goal of science is to be able to come up with solutions to help protect human health and life, so this project is very fulfilling for me.”

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