In 2019, a report released by the Directorate of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme stated that India recorded more than 67,377 cases of dengue between January and October.
And Karnataka alone saw over 12,756 dengue cases, the highest in India.
Khatre ka naam – dengue.
While mosquito repellent lotions, coils, plugins, nets and sprays, ride on this tagline, most fail to rise to the challenge. The effectiveness of mosquito repellent products is debatable in areas where disease-spreading mosquitoes thrive, a 16-year-old student from Mangaluru has found an innovative solution to tackle dengue.
This innovation transforms your clothes to repel mosquitoes naturally.
And all it costs is Rs 14!
For her innovation, Suneetha Moorje Prabhu received the prestigious Bal Shakti Puraskar 2020 for Excellence in the Field of Innovation on 26 January 2020.
Awarded by the Ministry of Women and Children Welfare, Government of India, she received a certificate of merit and a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.
The Better India got in touch with Suneetha to know more.
Developing a Scientific Temper
Born and brought up in Mangaluru, Karnataka, Suneetha is the daughter of industrialist Vivekananda Prabhu and Shanthala Prabhu.
She completed her schooling from SDM English Medium School, Ujire and is currently studying at the Centre for Advanced Learning, Mangaluru (CFAL).
When asked how the idea of the innovation came about, the innovator at heart says, “I am an avid science lover. I cannot recall a time when the wonders of science have failed to amaze me. Having participated in various inter and national level science exhibitions and fairs, I constantly keep researching on issues that require breakthrough scientific solutions.”
In Class 9, Suneetha read about the rising cases of vector-borne diseases in the country.
This piqued her curiosity.
She found the statistics on dengue in India so staggering that she started studying more about the solutions available in the market. She found out that while repellant sprays, lotions or devices were able to keep the mosquitoes at bay, the solution was temporary. e.g. repellent sprays or lotions have to be applied every four to five hours.
“Similarly, devices that claim to kill mosquitoes may be effective initially, until mosquitoes build immunity against it. So I wanted to find a more effective, but also affordable solution,” shares Suneetha.
While in class 10, she decided to take the idea forward after pairing up with her friend and co-innovator on the project, Pune-based Sanjeev Hotha.
Sanjeev and Suneetha met when they participated in the National Children Science Congress Fair in class 8 and the friends stayed in contact with each other.
The Idea of the Innovation
Sanjeev recalled how his father had gifted him a cloth with his name printed on it. He was intrigued by the concept of how a cloth could be printed in a manner, that even multiple washes it retains the dye/print on it.
“Our research revealed that a particular dye creates a strong bond with the cotton fabric. The same dye could also form a bond just as strongly with mosquito repellents. This led us to test if this property of the dye could be leveraged to make clothes naturally repel mosquitoes.”
The duo developed the solution and validated it in the house at IISER, Pune, and National Chemical Laboratory NCL-Pune.
In December 2018, in the IRIS (Initiative for research and innovation for STEM) National Fair held at Manekshaw Centre in Delhi, the duo presented their idea which won them the grand prize. And while that was certainly a boost to their innovative spirit, the experts and mentors guided them on the improvements to be implemented to present the idea at the international level.
In May 2019, the duo participated at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, held annually in the U.S. By then, they had made several developments.
“The first step was to test the cloth against the mosquitoes for which we contacted an entomologist who was breeding mosquitoes. We wanted to check how many washes the mosquito repelling property of the fabric can sustain? Turns out, it can sustain 40 washes. After speaking to stakeholders in the textile industry, we received overwhelming feedback. This has furthered our motivation to replicate the innovation for other kinds of fabric. The method currently is only available for cotton clothes.”
When asked about the costs, Suneetha says that with a mere Rs 14, this mosquito repelling property can be added to cotton fabrics produced in a large quantity.
“We designed the solution specifically keeping the vision of helping the less privileged. We are currently in the process of patenting the innovation. Once patented, this revolutionary solution could pave a bright path towards healthy India and the world at large. We aim to provide a low-cost alternative to other repellants and lower the number of vector-borne diseases in India.”
As for the future plans, the young innovator, says, “I want to innovate to benefit the world. I want to pursue a career in research and pure sciences and move forward in the field.”
We hope Suneetha and Sanjeev continue to touch the skies and motivate other young people to move forward in STEM too!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)