Washington: Scientists are relying on satellite imagery to control the deadly tsetse fly, an African killer that spreads “sleeping sickness” disease among humans and animals and wipes out livestock worth $4.5 billion every year.
Michigan State University researchers developed the plan using a decade’s worth of NASA satellite images of Kenyan landscape and by monitoring tsetse movement. With unprecedented precision, the plan could tell where and when to direct eradication efforts.
Current control efforts are ineffective and waste money by targeting tsetse-free areas, said Joseph Messina, associate professor of Geography at Michigan, who led the study.
“Our model dramatically reduces the cost of controlling the tsetse, and it’s more effective,” Messina was quoted as saying in the journal Applied Geography.
If applied, the plan would be effective in all of East Africa and other areas of the continent consisting of savannah, Messina said.
The tsetse, which feeds on the blood of vertebrate animals, lives in 37 sub-Saharan countries and infects thousands of people and millions of cattle every year, affecting primarily the rural poor, according to a Michigan statement.
Funding for large-scale tsetse control has dropped significantly in the past 25 years, as has optimism that sleeping sickness – technically known as African trypanosomiasis – can be contained.
The MSU plan would cost as little as $14.2 million. The plan relies on the use of targets — which are sheets of dark-coloured cloth sprayed with insecticide — in more strategic areas. Targets are highly effective and the most environmentally friendly control method, said Michigan researcher Paul McCord.
Current government strategy includes using targets and aerial spraying, but the spraying kills off beneficial species such as honey bees. “They’ve been trying to control the tsetse for more than 100 years, but nothing has worked on a large-scale basis,” said Messina.