One school of thought believes malaria accounts for nearly 50,000 deaths in India every year. Others insist this is a “vastly exaggerated” figure and that it is a lot lower at 10,000. Either way, there is no escaping the fact that malaria is a major scourge in the country.

People would give their right hand to keep this deadly mosquito-borne illness away permanently. Their wish may just come true though the route to the cure could perhaps be termed unusual.

Unusual because it is from a top global company known for its decorative paints business. Amsterdam-headquartered AkzoNobel recently introduced in India an antibacterial paint, Dulux Guardian. It is now looking at developing a paint technology that could go a long way in reducing the incidence of malaria.

According to Graeme Armstrong, Executive Committee Member for Research, Development & Innovation, AkzoNobel is quite serious about this initiative, which is being planned in association with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We are working on the development of technology on paints which are insecticidal for reduction of vector-borne diseases, etc. This would be the best bet for India,” he told Business Line on a visit to the company’s corporate office in Bangalore.

The effect of the paints needs to be long lasting for this to become an effective solution. According to Armstrong, the Gates Foundation is providing a lot of critical backup to this initiative.

The million-dollar question, of course, is when this magical paint will actually debut in this malaria-ravaged country.

“To prove it, you need lots and lots of testing. And this will require the nod of regulatory authorities in India and world over,” Armstrong says.

From the company’s point of view, the idea germinated from its core of health, safety and sustainability. “We constantly think of our employees and it is as important to go out in the market and prevent people from dying,” he adds.

Worldwide, malaria snuffs out nearly a million lives every year. Estimates show that most of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria remains a scourge in India too.

Typically, the cure involves an antibiotic dosage for over 10 days. Completing the cycle is critical; not doing so could seriously impact the body’s resistance ability.

Patients tend to stop the dosage halfway, when the symptoms disappear, and this could be the beginning of more trouble when malaria strikes again. Anti-malarial vaccines are also undergoing trials in India.

murali.gopalan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 14, 2013)
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