Can a game combat malaria?

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 17 Jul 2012 12:04 GMT
Author: Lauren Graham
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By Lauren Graham

 “Mosquito! Mosquito!

Catch it! Catch it!

Confuse it!

Shake it!  Shake it again!

Kill it!”

I watch as Kenyan youth representing Red Cross student clubs of Mombasa chant in unison against the dreaded mosquito. I am here working with the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) to pilot a game I co-created called Humans vs. Mosquitoes that can help in the fight against malaria.


Developed in fall 2011 by a team of graduate students from Yale University and Parsons The New School for Design, the game demonstrates the connection between climate change, mosquitoes and human health.  It is an interactive, participatory game in the same family as the classic rock, paper, scissors

Players are divided into two teams of three humans and three mosquitoes.  In each round, humans have the choice to protect themselves from being bitten by mosquitoes or to remove a mosquito egg from a breeding ground.  Mosquitoes either have to lay eggs or bite.

Climate change cards, similar to the “chance cards” in Monopoly, introduce a realistic scenario that climate change could have on mosquito behavior or human susceptibility to disease.  So far, the game has been seen and played by thousands of people of all ages in Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and the U.S. 


I am currently working to adapt the focus of the game from dengue fever to malaria.  My work involves traveling to Kenya’s malaria-prone regions to evaluate prevention programs, playtest the game, and interview community health workers, public officials, scientists and everyday people.   They share personal stories of how malaria continues to touch their lives and communities. 

Kenya’s malaria programs have been successful in reducing infection rates, but challenges remain.  The plan is for the game to fit directly into Kenya’s national malaria prevention strategy.  The enthusiastic reception by communities and public health officials puts that goal within reach.

David Otieno, public health manager at the KRCS headquarters in Nairobi believes that his organization will “gain a lot from the mosquito game in the aspect of social mobilization of communities towards malaria prevention and control.  The game presents practical life situations and memorable participation that is easy to use and … the host-vector-environment relationship is clearly addressed in a language and form that communities can best understand.”

The next step is to finalise and manufacture the game for global distribution. Africa is projected to experience some of the most severe impacts of climate change, but Humans vs. Mosquitoes is an innovation that could help in that fight.


Games are powerful tools for simulating complex, real-life situations in a simplified way that people can understand.  The interactive and engaging nature of gameplay provides a model for learning that is concentrated, informative and fun.

Games use role-play to offer an alternative social space that brings together people of different ages and backgrounds as equals.

Lauren Graham is a masters student at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.  She is blogging about her work in Kenya at  You can follow her on twitter @laurenegraham. For more information about Humans vs. Mosquitoes, please visit