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Humans · Economy

Low cost soap against Malaria

March 01st, 2017
in:Humans, Economy
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Burundi
tags:Faso Soap, Gerard Niyondiko, malaria

Close to half of the world’s population is at risk of Malaria, with the disease taking a toll on the world’s poorest countries according to the World Health Organisation.

Although the rate of new cases has fallen by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015, Malaria continues to be a burden to households and nations alike. Africa, for example accounts for 85 per cent of all Malaria cases and 90 percent of Malaria deaths globally. 85 percent of these deaths occur in children under the age of 5 years. Malaria represents up to 40 percent of hospital admissions and more than 4 percent of public health expenditure in most countries of the continent. Preventive measures like mosquito nets and vaccination are still out of reach for majority of Africans.

But amidst these grim statistics lies hope in a low-cost soap. Gerard Niyondiko, a chemical graduate from the University of Burundi has come up with a locally made soap that promises to make Malaria a thing of the past.

Dubbed Faso Soap, this low-cost innovation, is made from locally sourced raw materials and can repel mosquitoes for up to six hours after use. With this soap, Gerard hopes to save 100,000 lives by bringing the mosquito-repellent soap to the most vulnerable populations especially women and children. He spoke to Fairplanet about this venture. 

Fairplanet: Gérard First things first, what was the inspiration behind coming up with such a unique soap?

Gérard Niyondiko: That idea came to me when I entered the University of Burundi in 2000. After finishing high school, my dream was to become a doctor but I did not have that chance. I was oriented in a Department of Biology-Chemistry. Following this disappointment, I told myself that I will become a chemist and play my part in creating solutions to problems faced by ordinary people.

Why such a choice?

I grew up in an area where there is large palm oil plantation. It was one of the main economic activities of the region and palm oil is the main raw material of soap in my country. I was seeing people who have no school records managing small soap factories.

So, with my chemistry training, I had the idea in myself that I would at least be able to create a soap making business and I was confident that I would do it better than the others.

In 2012 I joined the Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering 2iE in Burkina Faso and I attended an innovation and entrepreneurship class that helped me to improve this first idea and imagine a repellent soap to fight malaria.

Why did you settle on soap as the weapon against Malaria?

Soap is one of the few products found in more than 95 per cent of African populations. Even the poorest families use soap in their daily lives. A mosquito-repellent soap would integrate malaria prevention in the everyday life of the population without any change of habits.

How long does it take to manufacture one soap bar and how expensive is it?

The soap is still in the experimental phase. It is not yet on the market. However we're work to make it as affordable as possible to reach the highest number of people in Africa.

How hard or easy has it been to get people to use the soap? What has been your reach?

The soap is not yet in the hands of the population. Once a prototype will be considered satisfactory in the laboratory we will launch a pilot phase. During this phase we will produce and distribute our soap at a small-scale. This pilot phase will allow us to monitor customers’ and distributors’ reactions.

How effective is this soap in the fight against Malaria compared to other control mechanisms like Mosquito nets or vaccines?

We currently develop a bar soap integrating natural substances which repel mosquitoes six hours after use,  adapted to sensitive skins and that everyone could afford.

How far do you want to scale the project? Africa, globally and why is your focus on that specific geography?

90 per cent of malaria victim are in Sub-Saharan Africa. To be the most effective we are targeting the six African countries most affected by malaria which are DR Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire.

What is the most interesting thing about what you do?

Our project is simple, but it has a huge possible social impact. Too many people do not use solutions against malaria because they cannot afford them, or because they are not part of their cultural habits.

A mosquito-repellent soap offers a new way to offer protection against malaria. An affordable and accessible repellent soap will save people who are unwilling or unable to spend more to protect themselves against malaria.

The soap can be found even in the most remote areas in Africa, even in conflict zones, where intervention against malaria is impossible.

How sustainable is the project? Is it something that might die sometime say for example because of lack of raw materials or funding?

We currently rely on diverse funding to carry out our research. But we are working on a sustainable and profitable business model in order to widely distribute our soap.

As a young intelligent African entrepreneur, why the focus on this soap when you, like your peers, could be in businesses with a huge turnover? Why does this matter to you?

What motivates me in this project is the scale of the problem I face. We can imagine the impact this project will provide on living conditions of the Sub-Saharan populations. That's why I devote all my time to this project with the hope that one day I can offer to our people a solution to this disease that has long been an obstacle to their socio-economic development.

I dream of an Africa free from malaria thanks to the use of a simple, effective, affordable and locally manufactured prevention solution. We know that we have the potential to face sanitary challenges in our community: let’s do it!

Malaria is one of the leading killers especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In your opinion are governments and the international community doing enough to tackle this menace?

The international community and governments are making considerable efforts to fight this disease. This is reflected in the WHO statistics. For example, between 2000 and 2015, the incidence of malaria decreased by 37 per cent worldwide, while the mortality rate declined by 60 per cent for all age groups and 65 per cent for children under five years. However, the fight is not yet won because a child still dies from malaria every two minutes and mosquitoes are becoming more resistant to insecticides.

So what next for Faso Soap? What is the bigger picture and dream moving forward?

We are conducting tests on industrial soap prototypes in the coming weeks in order to assess the duration of the repellency in a specialised lab. In order to have our product recommended by the World Health Organization we will keep carrying out more tests to optimise our soap, assess it in more open environments to better understand its impact on mosquitoes and malaria.  

Our vision is to save 100,000 lives from malaria by bringing our mosquito-repellent soap to the most vulnerable populations. We work to make this dream come true.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Current Map: Our coverage
Although the rate of new cases has fallen by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015, Malaria continues to be a burden to households and nations alike.
Gerard Niyondiko, a chemical graduate from the University of Burundi has come up with a locally made soap that promises to make Malaria a thing of the past.
We currently develop a bar soap integrating natural substances which repel mosquitoes six hours after use, adapted to sensitive skins and that everyone could afford.

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