LUSAKA (Reuters) – Kansai Plascon, owned by Tokyo-listed Kansai Paint Co Ltd, has launched the world’s first mosquito repellant paint in Zambia to help it reach a target to eliminate malaria by 2021, the company and a Japanese government official said.

Malaria, spread by mosquitoes, is a treatable disease if caught early, but current anti-malarial drugs are failing in many areas as people develop resistance to them.

Zambia aims to eradicate malaria, the southern African country’s biggest killer, within three years after deaths from the disease halved last year from 2014, the government said in June.

Hanai Junichi, Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) Zambia resident representative said his agency was carrying out the initiative in partnership with Kansai.

“A study done in the last two years in 400 households with Zambia’s ministry of health proved that the paint is very effective and is not harmful to human beings,” Junichi told Reuters.

While mosquito nets, prophylactics and insecticide spraying are still in use, the disease continues to account for more than one million deaths on the African continent each year, the company said.

The paint technology disrupts the mosquito’s nervous system on contact, reducing its ability to remain on walls where the paint has been applied.

The insect typically alights on vertical structures, which is why inside walls have been a key focus of anti-malarial efforts, such as the spraying of DDTs on them.

“The knock-down effect lasts for up to two years, offering lasting protection from malaria infection and other mosquito-borne diseases,” Kansai said.

The world has made huge strides against malaria since 2000, with death rates plunging by 60 percent and at least six million lives saved globally, WHO says.

But efforts to end one of the world’s deadliest diseases – which kills about 430,000 people a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa – are under threat as mosquitoes become increasingly resistant to measures such as bed nets and drugs.

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)