What Poor Africans Need: Anti-Malaria Fashion
    By News Staff | May 9th 2012 04:00 AM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Poor people in developing nations have been caught in a cultural tug-of-war over how to best keep them from dying of Malaria.  What they need to break the impasse between anti-science acolytes who think "Silent Spring" had any science in it and corporate chemical manufacturers is...a fashion show.

    Frederick Ochanda, postdoctoral associate in Cornell's Department of Fiber Science&Apparel Design and a native of Kenya, teamed up with Matilda Ceesay, a Cornell apparel design undergraduate from Gambia, to create a hooded bodysuit embedded at the molecular level with insecticides for warding off mosquitoes infected with malaria, a disease estimated to kill 655,000 people annually on the continent.

    Insecticide-treated nets are commonly used to keep mosquitoes out of African homes but those are not practical to wear during the day - and they say the Cornell prototype garment does not dissipate easily like skin-based repellants. By binding repellant and fabric at the nanolevel using metal organic framework molecules, 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.

    "The bond on our fabric is very difficult to break," said Ochanda. "The nets in use now are dipped in a solution and not bonded in this way, so their effectiveness doesn't last very long."

    Sandy Mattei with designer Matilda Ceesay, at the Cornell Fashion Collective Runway Show, April 28. Credit: Mark Vorreuter

    The colorful garment 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."

    Whatever that means to epidemiology. The 10 African women who can afford it will be pleased their anti-malaria suit embraces their sexuality, though. Still, they are trying so they deserve credit for that. Both have watched family members suffer from the disease.

    "Seeing malaria's effect on people in Kenya, it's very important for me to apply fiber science to help this problem," Ochanda said. "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."

    Of course, science did that with DDT but anecdotes about how a woman got cancer and died from it - which savvy voters of today don't fall for (as Michele Bachmann learning throwing out anecdotes about the HPV vaccine) - became gospel to a generation and the following ones have not even read Rachel Carson's book but assume it was based in fact.

    On the horizon, Ochanda said, is a fabric that releases repellant in response to changes in temperature or light – offering wearers more protection at night when mosquitoes are on the hunt. At minimum, they hope the technology can be applied to create longer-lasting insecticide-laden bed nets.

    "Although there are already mosquito nets being used, the solution isn't foolproof," Ceesay said. "People are still getting sick and dying. We can't get complacent. I hope my design can show what is possible when you bring together fashion and science and will inspire others to keep improving the technology. If a student at Cornell can do this, imagine how far it could go."


    Bednets are not practical to wear during the day -- but malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite almost always between dusk and 1:00 a.m. So it's not much use to have insecticide-impregnated clothing, if your goal is to prevent malaria.

    DDT does cause cancer, it's true, but fortunately it is a weak carcinogen. Rachel Carson never said DDT causes cancer (the research was not so firm then), nor was DDT banned because it causes cancer in humans. DDT was banned because it disrupts ecosystems, and it can kill off entire systems in a very short time. It's an uncontrollable poison in the wild.

    Worse, DDT's effectiveness is easily bred around by mosquitoes, which is why the World Health Organization in 1965 had to abandon its ambitious program to rid the world of malaria.

    Rachel Carson was right about DDT. Let's hope scientists are right that this new cloth can prevent more malaria, and let's hope they are as careful about science as Rachel Carson was in their rollout of the stuff. Savvy voters expect and deserve good science. Michelle Bachmann is a poor exemplar of any virtue of science, and no rebuttal to the good science of Rachel Carson.

    DDT does cause cancer, it's true, but fortunately it is a weak carcinogen.
    Everything is a carcinogen and therefore causes cancer.  It is a meaningless determination or we could just ban everything and there would be no cancer - except there would be.  Her book was total claptrap and unfortunately it got attention and environmental groups started making even more ridiculous claims to try and duplicate it.  The downside to activism over honesty is that no one can trust the claims of environmental groups now - they make Exxon look honest.

    There is virtually nothing in your comment that is accurate. I suppose the grammar is okay; claiming that if WHO bans something the science must be solid is silly.
    Mr. Campbell, the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control list DDT as a "probable human carcinogen." DDT is a known carcinogen in all other mammals tested, and if it didn't cause cancer in humans it would be the only chemical ever known to cause cancer in rats, mice, and cows, and not in humans.

    So, should I trust you or the CDC on this one? Thank you, I'll take the word of the CDC. If you think I am inaccurate, I ask that you cite some authority for your claim.

    Carson's book was checked for accuracy by the President's Science Advisory Council in 1962 and 1963. They appointed a panel including the nation's most prestigious biologists, entomologists and epidemiologists (two Nobel winners) to study her book at DDT. Their report, issued on May 15, 1963, said Carson was right, except she went too easy on DDT.

    Who to believe in this one, Hank Campbell, or Stanley Bennett, James Watson and Hans Bethe? (More on the PSAC report here: )

    If you believe I have posted anything inaccurate, I ask that you offer citations. No, let me go farther: I dare you to provide citations to peer-reviewed science material that refutes the PSAC, the CDC, or any of Rachel Carson's extensive footnotes (offer a page number for what you claim, please).

    Rachel Carson wrote solid science, and I regret that you seem to have fallen for the junk science claims to the contrary.

    P.S. -- DDT was not banned for its carcinogenicity -- so though one would be incorrect to claim it does NOT cause cancer, one would be conducting a red herring dispensing service to claim DDT is safe because it's only a weak carcinogen. DDT was banned because it kills entire ecosystems, and in the wild it is an uncontrollable poison.