August 20, 2020

Stepping Up the Fight on World Mosquito Day 2020

“Human beings can easily destroy every elephant on earth,” author Isaac Asimov paradoxically mused, “but we are helpless against the mosquito.”

A seemingly bold claim, our race’s macabre dance with this approximately 1.5 inch (3.81 cm) long insect spans several Megayears (1 Megayear = 1 million years) from antiquity, to 1st century ACE China, to now. With about 100 million mosquitoes buzzing at any given moment - historian Timothy Winegard said - the insect is responsible for about 5.2 billion deaths since time immemorial, cementing its title as the most prolific natural predator in human history.

From the regions calling them “al-Ba’oudha” to regions calling them “Kosu,” mosquitoes are a global problem. There are about 219 million cases of malaria every year (about 435,000 deaths annually) in over 100 countries, with roughly 11 countries shouldering 70 percent of the malaria burden. In those regions today, a child dies approximately every two minutes from a mosquito-borne illness and the countries can lose about $12 billion annually trying to save their citizens.

While world economies and populations slowed because of COVID-19, the mosquitoes have not. The world therefore takes every 20 August to celebrate World Mosquito Day - marking the day in 1897 when Dr. Ronald Ross officially linked malaria to mosquitoes - to raise awareness about the dangers of mosquito-borne illnesses and showcase global efforts to curb mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria. For this day, MCDI is engaging with partners on social media and conducting a digital campaign to amplify the messages of World Mosquito Day and spotlight our work on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.

Since 2,000 ACE, global anti-mosquito efforts saved a projected 7 million lives from mosquito-related deaths like malaria. MCDI joined these efforts and bolstered this positive momentum in 2003 when it began it Bioko Island Malaria Control Program (BIMCP – now called the Bioko Island Malaria Elimination Project [BIMEP]) on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea.

MCDI’s efforts emphasize Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) and installing Long-Lasting Insecticide-Treated Nets (LLINs) to combat mainly two malaria-carrying mosquito species on Bioko Island: Anopheles coluzzi ( ~91% of island cases – formally known as Anopheles gambia s.s. M) and Anopheles melas ( ~9% of island cases). According to MCDI’s annual intervention evaluations, its integrated vector control initiatives reduced mosquito species populations, eliminated an entire species named An. funestus in 2005, reduced the proportion of mosquitoes in the remaining two species carrying malaria sporozite (An. coluzzi: 6% to 0.6%, and An. melas: 8.3% to 0%), and reduced the number of infectious bites per person per year from 1,030 in 1999 to 26 in 2019 ( ~98% reduction).

What contributes to the veracity of Asimov’s claim is the efficient adaptability of mosquitoes. According to MCDI's longitudinal evaluations, An. coluzzi and An. melas diversified their breeding sites in recent years to adapt to urban landscape changes and local vector ecology. While traditional breeding grounds included small puddles or car tires track marks, now An. coluzzi larvae were identified in over 50% of neglected swimming pools and An. melas larvae were found in crab holes as well as pig hoof prints – all atypical breeding sites for these species. This adaptation renewed MCDI interest in another vector control strategy, Larval Source Management (LSM), it successfully used combatting mosquitoes in South America in its ZICORE project. In fact, MCDI can tribute scaled-up LSM to diminishing confirmed cases by 70% and overall parasite prevalence by 43.8% in the district of Riaba on Bioko Island last year after a sudden surge at the end of a period of heavy rainfall.

Mosquitoes are arguably the deadliest animal on earth for humans. Illnesses borne from the tiny insects have claimed countless lives and evaded numerous control or elimination attempts by the medical community, but elimination is in reach. Continued focus by MCDI and other similar organizations, especially during the COVID-19 era, will protect and strengthen health systems against scourges like malaria. Discover more of what MCDI is doing in the fight against malaria on its website or on its social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn).

Matthew S. Lynch is the Assistant Communications Officer at Medical Care Development International (MCDI) Maryland, USA, office.

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