Science has made great strides in the battle against malaria in recent years. Increased funding for research and public education have helped to beat back the spread of the disease, which is found on every continent on the planet. Still, as healthcare workers in countries like Papua New Guinea can attest, we're a long way from eradicating the disease.
More than 3 billion people across the world are at risk from the parasite, which thrives in moist, tropical and sub-tropical climates and is transmitted by the lowly mosquito. In Papua New Guinea, one of the common means of transmission is through mosquito bites at night. Improved mosquito netting and indoor pesticide sprays help to combat the disease indoors. But for those who enjoy sitting outside around the fire at the end of the day, say, sipping on a brew -- a common favorite pastime in the Oceanian nation -- staying protected from the pesky insect is still a challenge.
So, the makers of the popular SP Lager, an offshoot of the Heineken label, came up with a low-cost option to ward off the 'skeeters: the Mozzie Box.
Market researchers at the Melbourne, Australia-based company GPY&R determined that many of the company's customers enjoyed their beer in the evening hours around the bonfire and used old boxes as fuel to keep it going. By spraying the beer boxes with eucalyptus, one of the world's oldest forms of mosquito pesticide, the beer manufacturers are able to provide a low-cost means for introducing a mosquito deterrent -- while still providing access to one of the country's most popular beers.
Of course, scientists have already confirmed that it's not the warm, crackling fire that attracts the mosquitoes, but the warm-blooded target -- and the beer. Researchers have been able to dispel the age-old rumor that beer wards off 'skeeters. It actually attracts them, increasing the likelihood of exposure to malaria.
And changing those social habits aren't so easy, either.
"[Knowledge] of human behavior is essential in the planning of disease control programs," writes John M. Goldsmid, an emeritus professor in microbiology at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. Sociological efforts to change people's exposure to diseases don't always work if ingrained customs aren't taken into consideration. Papua New Guinea residents may not be inclined to stop their preferred tradition of drinking beer around the bonfire, especially if it serves as a social release at the end of a grueling day of work.
There's no assurance that the drinker won't contract malaria while sitting around the eucalyptus-perfumed fire, either. The developers at GPY&R point out that the spray is not a guaranteed protection from mosquito bites. It simply adds a repellent that has been shown to work in natural settings. But it is one more ingenious way of using technology and natural resources to work around the challenges posed by human lifestyle.
Images of Mozzie Box: GPY&R
Image of mosquito: James Jordan
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.