Ending malaria will save Africa $12bn yearly

From the Anopheles to the Culex, mosquitoes do the world more bad than good and it may not be a totally bad idea eradicating them. Think dengue feverchikungunya, yellow fever and malaria; all spread by mosquitoes. Malaria alone costs Africa $12 billion per year.

At least one million people die from malaria each year, 90 percent of which comes from sub-Saharan Africa. 70 percent of the deaths are of children less than five years old — equivalent to one child dying every 30 seconds. About 40% of these deaths occur in just two countries; Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. People may even be dying from malaria more than we know as the World Health Organisation (WHO) admitted in 2006 that malaria deaths are the hardest to count. We have mosquitoes to blame for this carnage; they are the vectors of Plasmodium falciparum and its relatives causing malaria. They are also responsible for carrying viruses causing yellow fever, dengue fever, among others. We need to stop them!

British Scientists might have found a way. They developed a genetically modified species of mosquitoes that produce just male offspring.In lab tests by Imperial College London researchers, they modified mosquitoes to produce sperm that will only create males.

The genetic method, details of which was published in the journal Nature Communications in 2014 distorts the sex ratio of Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, one of the most efficient malaria vectors known, and the main transmitters of the malaria parasite.

In the first laboratory tests, the method created a fully fertile mosquito strain that produced 95 percent male offspring. These were introduced to five caged wild-type mosquito populations. According to the study, in four of the five cages, this eliminated the entire population within six generations, because of the lack of females.

If this could be replicated in the wild, there is hope that the malaria-carrying mosquito population would crash and someday become extinct.

But American Public Health entomologist Grayson Brown is not a fan of mosquito genocide. In answering one of the questions asked about mosquitoes on a forum on Gawker Media’s io9. Brown wrote: “If mosquitoes went extinct: Mosquito larvae are very important in aquatic ecology. Many other insects and small fish feed on them and the loss of that food source would cause their numbers to decline as well. Anything that feeds on them, such as game fish, raptorial birds, etc. would in turn suffer too.”

Many birds and other insects eat mosquitoes, and many fish eat mosquito larvae. Because mosquitoes are so numerous, their extinction would in the short term affect these species. However, even in the intermediate term, populations of other insects might increase to take advantage of the space vacated by mosquitoes, possibly providing an alternate food source for mosquito predators. Of course, ecosystems are complicated, and it is difficult to predict what the removal of one common species would do in the long run.

While ending the existence of mosquitoes will be a first choice for many Africans who not only suffer itchy skins or malaria but also sometimes have to endure the annoying hum of the insect, they are part of the ecosystem and they need to remain. This is because anything that alters the balance of the ecosystem threatens the health and existence of that ecosystem.

North America battled with Malaria decades ago, until it was eradicated in the early 1950’s. Mosquitoes were not annihilated. In fact, the mosquito that carried malaria parasite in the United States, Anopheles quadrimaculatus is still common today. What happened was that the specific strain of malaria that was well adapted to transmission by that mosquito disappeared. This shows malaria can be eliminated without the guilt of ‘mosquitoral’ genocide.

Already, laudable efforts are on by several organizations across the globe to end the scourge. Since the turn of the millennium, prevention and control measures have increased, reducing global malaria mortality rates by 42 percent.

International disbursements for malaria control rose from $ 100 million in 2000 to $ 1.97 billion in 2013. But this is still billions away from the estimated $ 5.1 billion needed to fight malaria every year. Fighting malaria is a really good fight. For every £1 million ($1.5 million) spent on fighting malaria, we improve the African Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by £12 million ($18.3 million).

Vaccines may still be a dream (although the Mosquirix jab is ready) but the world has made gains in the fight against malaria through a combination of interventions, including timely diagnosis and treatment using reliable diagnostic tests and effective drugs; indoor spraying with safe, long-lasting insecticides; and the use of bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticide to protect people from mosquito bites at night.

According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “We have the opportunity to accelerate progress toward elimination [of malaria] in all countries by improving the delivery of existing interventions as well as developing new tools and new strategies that target not just malaria-transmitting mosquitoes but also the parasite itself […].”