In recent times mosquito-borne diseases have resurfaced or emerged and spread rapidly. From Zika, dengue to West Nile fever and chikungunya. Malaria, which has had long-term global efforts to eradicate it, has shown signs of increasing recently.
Most of these diseases have no specific treatment and the short supply of medicines available for some are facing resistance. Insecticides used to control mosquitoes are losing their potency. On many fronts, innovations are urgently needed to control old diseases and decrease new ones from spreading.
Although, help is at hand as governments worldwide have accepted that efforts need to be increased and cooperation improved. New vaccines and medicines are under development but have
had limited success. Scientists in fields as diverse as biochemistry, genomics, entomology, computing, remote sensing, avionics, artificial intelligence, robotics and aerospace engineering are combining their resources to develop new ways to fight diseases.
Here are some recent scientific developments that are bringing a new dawn in the global fight against mosquito-borne diseases.
Millions of lives have been saved by vector-control techniques. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2015, for malaria alone 663 million cases were prevented by distributing insecticide treated bednets and indoor spraying of insecticides in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2015, however, Global efforts for eliminating malaria had stalled and malaria cases and deaths had started to increase in some regions.
The World Health Organisation initiated a new strategy that was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2015: the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030. As part of this strategy, WHO is working with 21 countries in five regions to eliminate malaria by 2020. Called the E-2020 initiative, the countries were identified by WHO on the basis of their downward trend in malaria incidence from 2000-2016 and their capabilities to carry out the necessary measures to achieve elimination.
Global vector-borne disease strategy Zika, dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya also have had serious outbreaks due to neglect of vector control in many countries. Yellow fever is the only one with a widely available vaccine.
Other neglected diseases spread by mosquitoes include Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis and West Nile fever. In addition, other important vector-borne diseases that need attention include Chagas disease transmitted by triatomine bugs, onchocerciasis by blackflies, leishmaniasis by blackflies, Lyme borreliosis and encephalitis by ticks, human African trypanosomiasis by tsetse flies, and schistosomiasis by snails.
WHO developed a thorough strategy to improve the capability of countries to manage all vector-borne diseases. In 2017 the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Vector Control Response (GVCR) 2017-2030. The new strategy aimed to engage multiple sectors, including healthcare, environment, urban planning and education.
It also included a drive to boost innovation to develop new techniques and products for disease and vector control. WHO said the GVCR “promises a new dawn for the control and elimination of vector-borne diseases.