Social enterprise begun as a result of research

In the city of Girardot, Colombia, a new social enterprise has started to produce window curtains that keep out the mosquitos that carry the dengue virus. The concept came out of a broad, community and environmental research project in 7 Latin American countries.

The city of Girardot, located on the banks of the Magdalene River in Colombia, is an important summer vacation spot. The region’s tropical climate draws not only tourists but also provides the perfect conditions for the reproduction of the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits the dengue virus that can be deadly.

The cases of dengue in this Colombian city dramatically increased in the first half of 2013 with 60 newly infected people diagnosed each week. But a TDR-supported research project there found some community-based solutions to fight this trend.

Carmen Suarez is a community leader who was asked if she wanted to get involve in the research, led by a team from the Centro de Estudios e Investigación en Salud at the Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá.

The researchers surveyed 2 000 households in Girardot to identify the breeding sites of the mosquito, and to develop an intervention to reduce their numbers.

The results of the survey identified two approaches. The first was to stop the mosquito from entering homes, the most common point of contact for the mosquito. The second was to create a physical barrier to stop mosquito reproduction in utility sinks and water tanks.

The community members were then asked for their ideas as to how to do this. Dr Juliana Quintero, the co-investigator on this project, says “The community was involved from the initial stages. They helped us to understand the problem because they are the community that lives with dengue.”

Carmen Suarez offered to sew curtains that could be fitted to doors and windows. “I called on other neighbors and we started working,” she says with a smile. “I explained to my neighbors how things worked and then we made some curtains for another neighborhood, all of it by using specific measurements.”

The neighbors helped each other to install the curtains on doors and windows, and the effort expanded into a business that makes enough money to keep the enterprise going. “I think this project is important,” adds Carmen, “because in addition to making some money, I am also helping to control the spread of dengue.”

A similar process was carried out to cover the water tanks. Tatiana Garcia, the project coordinator, says the process of designing the lids for the tanks and sinks involved 111 neighbors. “It was very gratifying. We asked them how they would design the lids because they knew what they needed, and we used the materials that they proposed.”

“Dengue rates have decreased after having installed the curtains and reservoir lids. We are only reporting 4, 5 or 6 cases a week now, as opposed to the 60 we had before this research.”

Magda Caicedo, Girardot Secretary of Health

Girardot residents experienced immediate results, with 90% saying that they were satisfied. Liliana Rojas, who lives in the neighborhood with her young son, said that the curtains have reduced the numbers of mosquitoes and also ants, wasps and even cockroaches. “Before the curtains, we had to spray every 8 days, and each time I went to the market I had to buy a can of insecticide and that insecticide is expensive. I don’t spray anymore, so with the money that I am saving I can buy a pound of meat, which is always necessary.”

The municipal health department officials, who supported and followed the project closely, also see positive results. Magda Caicedo, Girardot’s Secretary of Health, says, “Dengue rates have decreased after having installed the curtains and reservoir lids. We are only reporting 4, 5 or 6 cases a week now, as opposed to the 60 we had before this research.”

The research results are being evaluated, but the municipal authorities are already convinced of the effectiveness of the intervention and are looking to see how they can take this approach to more communities in Colombia.

“I think this project is important, because in addition to making some money, I am also helping to control the spread of dengue.”

Carmen Suarez, social enterprise founder and community member

This research is part of a much broader scope of TDR support that partners communities and health services to develop and implement environmentally sound methods to reduce the transmission of dengue and Chagas disease. The work is being carried out in 7 Latin American countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay. The project has been implemented by TDR, in partnership with Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the local research teams.