Why does Malaria still exist?

We live in the day and age wherein we still get the jitters by the thought of a mosquito borne infection and all that it entails! Well, except for those who live in Antarctica. Not because they possess some valiant spirit in them but due to the fact that there’re no mosquitoes to be found in that part of the world.

Therefore, the trifling population that resides there can be free from any fear of mosquitos around them. Although, one clearly has bigger issues to think about when one lives in Antarctica.

Few of the most fatal diseases that these notorious and hateful creatures are responsible for are; malaria, yellow fever, dengue, chickungunya and zika. These bloodsuckers find us in the darkest hour of the night by sniffing us down and give us a hickey! They’re responsible for killing hundreds and thousands of people each year.

Extensive research is going on around the world backed with exorbitant amounts of funding on these teeny tiny organisms. The reason being that more than half of the world’s population is at the risk of contracting these killer diseases. This article will discuss more on why one of those deadly diseases, that is malaria, still exists. One of the recent studies says that the African malarian mosquito bites primarily on the ankle area, the feet. Well as the name suggests “Mosqui-TOES”!

Genetic modification of the mosquito

Most of us must have stumbled over the thought of killing all of the mosquitoes so that we can be liberated from all the deadly diseases that these obnoxious creatures are responsible for inflicting us with. Historically, the human race is good with making things go extinct! Then why is it so tough to get rid of these bloodsuckers once and for all? Well, there’re about 3000 species of mosquitoes worldwide and only couple 100 are the ones that take pleasure in feasting on human blood.

These bugs are very tough because they’ve survived for over 45 million years on this planet with some severe environmental changes and with lots of predators around. Our earlier attempt of killing them with chemicals like DDT turned out to be extremely detrimental for mother nature as well as for us. However, how bad would it be, if one fine day we manage to eradicate them all with some non-environmentally apocalyptic way?

Scientists have varied opinions on that one. Some say it wouldn’t be that hard for most ecosystems to heal quickly, while others suggest that certain mosquito species play important ecological roles. They make up for a huge part of biomass in some areas of the world, they’re responsible for pollination and some also make for a major food source for migrating birds. Now, eliminating them all could lead to a ripple effect in the ecosystem, endangering the life of many other organisms.

Hence, we don’t really need to kill them all. Fortunately, we’ve the knowledge of the species that are carriers and infect humans. Researchers are trying to focus on finding ways to kill those carriers or the dangerous parasites residing in them that are transmitted through their bite. One way of doing that is by genetic modification of the mosquito instead of killing it outright.

This genetic modification would involve creating mosquito with self-limiting gene, which means the gene will stop their cells from functioning normally. These genetically modified mosquitos will be released in the environment, so that they can mate with the female mosquitos. This way, that self-limiting gene can be passed onto their offsprings. Consequently, those offsprings won’t be able to develop properly and will die before they become adults. No adult mosquitoes will result in no disease transmission.

Apart from the aforementioned environmental challenges involved in the elimination of the infectious mosquitoes there are certain other scientific, economic and cultural challenges involved as well.

Scientific challenges

Malaria is the fearsome infectious disease that has killed more humans than any other creature. The parasite that causes malaria is the most wildly known pathogens to human because it can survive and thrive in the hostile environments of the cold-blooded mosquitoes as well as the warm-blooded humans. Shape shifters or what!

The malarian parasite transforms itself 7 times in its life cycle, each transformation is entirely different from the other in its physiology. Therefore, even if the scientists did come up with a drug to kill the parasite, it’d hardly do much good because one stage of this frightening parasite’s lifecycle might be affected but the other may remain totally unharmed! These parasites can take shelter in our bodies without our notice for decades and all of a sudden one fine day emerge from nowhere. Therefore, these parasites are as big a challenge as their carriers; the bloodsucking mosquitoes. There’re only 12 species of mosquitoes in the world that carry most of the world’s malaria.

Economic challenges

It’s not poverty that causes malaria but malaria that causes poverty. It predisposes the population to death from all other causes like poor sanitation, poor food, dirty water. If malaria causing mosquitoes were to be extinct, deaths from other related causes would drastically decrease too. An economist revealed in his quantification, that if there’s malaria in your society, your economic growth is depressed by 1.3% annually by just this one disease. Quite alarming! Delivery of the vaccine or drugs seems to be a bigger challenge in areas where there’re no roads, no clinicians, no infrastructure, no electricity for refrigeration to keep the drug at an optimum temperature.

Cultural challenges

In many parts of the world where the killer disease poses serious problems, the communities there don’t take it that seriously. Many people are under the notion that it is as normal a problem of life as any other. It is taken as leniently as cold and flu; just some infection that comes and goes. Therefore, not many people even take the precautionary measures with much seriousness. For instance, using bed nets or repellants etc. This mindset becomes challenging in the taming of the disease.

This doesn’t mean that malaria can’t be conquered over, but we need to be culturally sensitive and eradicate the disease according to the priorities of the people living with the disease. We don’t necessarily need to attack malaria in that case, but malaria’s way of life! We attack bad roads, bad drainage, poor sanitation, lack of electricity, lack of awareness and education last but not the least we attack rural poverty. The process is time consuming, it won’t be inexpensive and it won’t be a piece of cake but it is the way forward.

Even though, fortunately Ghana has seen significant reduction in malaria cases this year, it is even more important for us to be well informed about it. More so, to keep that number decreasing and eventually completely exterminating the disease from the population.

The writer is an Entrepreneurial Biotechnologist and passionate about creating awareness amongst the masses and steering a tangible change in the healthcare delivery systems. Email: [email protected]

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