The world currently has all its focus turned to the fight against the COVID-19 virus, which is now a global pandemic. Billions of dollars are being used to fight the coronavirus, as it causes economic slowdown across the globe. Leaving little to no attention left on other public health risks such as in the fight against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Did you know?
At the time of writing this article, the website, worldometers.info/coronavirus/, puts the total death resulting from the coronavirus at 269,002. Quite a horrifying number by all standards. However, did you know that malaria kills about 400,000 people across the globe every year?
Interestingly, experts say that the number of death from the mosquito-carried disease has dropped by about 40%. So it used to be higher and would have been so today were it not for measures such as the mass distribution of nets by UNICEF and partners such as the Global Fund.
Those falling victims the most to malaria are often children under the age of five. Pregnant women too have proven to be quite vulnerable to the disease.
Let’s Protect the Mosquitoes
The fight against malaria has largely been fashioned as weapons that kill the mosquitoes. However, most of these weapons almost always end up having undesired collateral damage in the form of killing other beneficial insects in ecosystems.
It sometimes even leads to the pollution of waters in the wetlands, swamps, dams, and lakes through the chemicals being sprayed. As the chemicals being used mix with the water, and making such habitats poisonous for a wide range of other flora and fauna within the ecosystem.
To Protect Ourselves, Let’s Protect our Enemies
Mosquitoes are as much victims of the malaria pathogens as humans. The difference is, mosquitoes are insects whose value does not even begin to compare with that of humans. So the logic so far has been to kill as many of these insects as possible.
Luckily for the insects, nature has made them too resilient that they have been persevering through all our annihilations attempts. It could also be perhaps, all our mosquitoes-annihilation attempts have not been strong enough.
Well, scientists working at the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya have discovered a new approach in the fight against malaria. They propose that we should protect mosquitoes from getting infected by the pathogens in the first place, to prevent them from infecting humans.
This development comes after they discovered microbes (fungi) called Microsporidia MB. That naturally exists in a small percentage of the mosquito population. The mosquitoes infected by these specific microbes seem to be completely immune to malaria pathogen infection.
It appears the Microsporidia MB, which exists in the guts and the genitalize of the insects, can fight off the malaria pathogen. Rendering mosquitoes harmless to humans; save for their sometimes painful bites as they suck the human blood.
The team of scientists made up of researchers from Kenya and the UK, proposes culturing these microbes in labs. Then infecting as many malaria as possible, especially the males, and then releasing them. The expectation is that the insects carrying the microbe will spread the Microsporidia MB fungi to the rest of the mosquitoes population.
When the majority of mosquitoes get infected with the microbe, they will become immune to the malaria pathogen.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Jeremy Herren from the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology said, “The data we have so far suggests it is 100% blockage of malaria.”
However, the scientists say they are yet to fully understand how the microbe works inside the insect. They suspect it heightens the mosquito’s immune system thus fighting off malaria infection easily. The researchers also discovered that the said microbe is found naturally in about 5% of the mosquitoes population in the wild.
Culture the Pathogen in Lab, Infect Mosquitoes, Then Release them
The researchers’ study published the journal Nature Communications suggest that scientist could use the microbe in two ways:
- Release the microbes in the form of spores to areas where mosquitoes are found in large swarms to infect the deadly insects.
- Implant the microbes inside the male mosquitoes, who don’t bit as they don’t need the proteins in human blood for their eggs to develop, and release them. The intention here being the male infect the female mosquitoes during mating.
COVID-19 could lead to an increase in other diseases
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tredos Adhanom Ghebreyesus has cautioned world government and public health organizations against putting all their entire efforts towards fighting coronavirus.
All that attention could lead to moving away resources that were previously used to fight deadly diseases. Leading to an upsurge of deaths and sicknesses as a result. Malaria related death could very well be top on that list.