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Electric Fans - Annual consumption of 1500 Kwhr/cap and no malaria in Africa

August 12, 2013 - 16:57 -- William Jobin

I am intrigued by the role that consumption of electricity has had in suppressing malaria throughout the world, so I took a quick look at the figures for Africa, to compare.

First of all, in subtropical countries where malaria has been suppressed fairly recently, I found that annual per capita consumption in Puerto Rico, Turkmenistan, Mauritius and Egypt exceeds 1,500 Kilowatt hours at present. Since the Second World War, hydroelectric, oil and natural gas generation has supplied these countries with ever-increasing amounts of electrical power. Think of Egypt and Aswan Dam, or Turkmenistan and all the new dams on the Amu Darya River. Puerto Rico now consumes almost 5,000 Kwhrs/cap annually, as much as many northern industrialized countries.

So how could this affect malaria, you ask? Well if you had just enough affordable and reliable electricity in your house to run a ceiling fan, you could close your house up at night, turn on the fan, and sleep comfortably. We did that in central Sudan for 5 years - and no malaria. The word is that in Turkmenistan they are even using air-conditioning in rural areas. Think what that does to the mosquitoes! We had air conditioning in Puerto Rico, lived near huge coastal swamps, and had no malaria, dengue fever or even mosquitoes in our house!

But a simple fan would not only give you relief from the heat and humidity of the malaria season, it would also disturb the biochemical gradients in your bedroom which the mosquito needs to find her human blood-meal in the dark. So even if she snuck in through the eaves of your roof, she is completely lost. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everybody had fans?

In contrast to Puerto Rico and Turkmenistan, in African countries which still have serious malaria problems, annual consumption per capita of electricity is much, much lower, about an order of magnitude : Ghana consumes 218 Kwhr, Mali consumes 35, Mauritania consumes 181, Senegal consumes 180, Zambia consumes 591 and Zimbabwe is getting up to near what might be the crossover point of 1500, consuming 1079 Kwhr/cap annually.

Of course these are national averages. What they mean is that a few people have electricity, but most have none. To some extent the low consumption rates reflect the large number of people with zero electricity.

What is going on in Zimbabwe? I assumed their economy is devastated, and that they have lots of malaria. Am I wrong? Are they getting all the electricity from Kariba Dam, now that Zambia is not using the power for refining copper?

It will be interesting to watch the impact of the many new African hydroelectric dams on electricity consumption and on malaria prevalence. Think of Merowe Dam and Bugugali Dam on the Nile River, and Manantali Dam in the Senegal River Basin.

I have appealed to my MIT engineering colleagues for ideas on how to power small electric fans at night in Africa. Do you have any ideas?

still looking for a better way


Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

It is very interesting the relationship you find between electricity consumption and malaria. The problem of course is that not only does a government need to install all the necessary equipment to bring electricity to affected areas (and come up with a maintenance team) but they need to provide that electricity at a cost that will be affordable. In my experience the first thing that appears on people's houses are Tv and refrigerators (most of the times the Tv is given or subsidised by the government for they are a fantastic way to convey a message). Then the fans themselves need to be cheap and you need one in each room of the house ( in case there is more than one room), because if you have it in the bedroom, but not in the room where you watch your Soap-opera at night... then the mozzies will just bite you anyway.

Ricardo Ataíde