Using nanotechnology, they are working to create a fashionable hooded bodysuit that can ward off mosquitos carrying the Plasmodium parasites, which cause the illness.
While many in Africa sleep under mosquito nets and wear skin-based repellants, the new bodysuit is infused with a mosquito-repelling compound at the nano level.
“The bond on our fabric is very difficult to break,” said Frederick Ochanda, postdoctoral associate in Cornell's Department of Fiber Science and 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," Ochanda added.
Cornell apparel designer Matilda Ceesay, from West Africa, says the mesh fabric she is working with can be loaded with up to three times more insecticide than normal fibrous nets, which typically lose effectiveness after about six months.
Ochanda and Ceesay say they have watched their own family members suffer from the disease, which they hope their new cloths will help prevent.
“It's so common back home, you can’t escape it,” Ceesay said.
Photo: Mark Vorreuter