Originally Published 25 April 2020

Priscoculex burmanicus, a newly identified genus and species of anopheline mosquito, preserved in amber. Credit: George Poinr Jr.

Today as we commemorate World malaria day amidst the global COVID19 outbreak, it’s important to take a break and reflect about “Malaria” a very long-standing scourge of mankind. Its very important that the Vigor in the battle against malaria  must not reduce by any chance in the present scenario

Humanity has faced a lot of deadly diseases but perhaps one of the biggest killers throughout history has been malaria and indeed the tiny little mosquito. The mosquito has been on this planet even before a human ever walked on the earth.  The scientists have found the fossils of a mosquito that lived around 100 million years ago in tree ember. Further existence of malaria disease in a 15-20-million-year-old mosquito fossil from the Dominican Republic has been discovered by Prof George Poinar. 

Malaria like illness has been reported through history across the world. Various text, manuscripts, clay tablets across various civilizations have described the presence of diseases with similar symptoms to malaria. It has been associated with agriculture and marshy land historically. 

Throughout history, malaria was killing people and people had no idea what was killing them, people tried their own remedies, beliefs, customs but to no avail, as nobody knew the real reason to what caused malaria. Though people started associating malaria-like illness with marshy areas, agriculture & they even tried to do some environmental management. 

Vector Control & Malaria 

A proactive scientific exploration about malaria started happening during the latter part of the 19th century

In the 1880s, Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran for the 1st time observed and reported parasites inside the red blood cells of infected people in Algeria. 

However, the fight against malaria really got new possibilities, when Sir Ronald Ross established that malaria is spread by mosquitoes in 1897. So, by the end of the 19th century, both the vector (Anopheles mosquitoes) and the causing organisms (plasmodium) have been identified. 

This new information helped to intensify the targeting both the vector by the number of engineering, natural or chemical methods to alter on how mosquitoes live and reproduce, and on the drug therapy to suppress the diseases` s worst clinical symptoms. 

By 1930-40s, Vector Control started playing a key role with the early insecticides such as DDT & Paris Green. Large scale usage of these insecticides started happening across the globe, the world around then was saved from much of misery because of vector control inventions. 

Since then various vector control measures such as Indoor Residual spray, Larviciding, Space spray and Bed nets has continued to play a pivotal role in the fight against malaria and has saved billions of lives till now.  

Numerous chemistries from early insecticides like Paris Green & DDT to other OP/OC compounds to recent synthetic pyrethroids, carbamates and now latest combination insecticides have played a key role in the fight against Mosquito and malaria.

Vector Control tools have continued to evolve, thus helping to intensify the fight and to keep with the challenges of resistance and adaptions in the mosquito behavior. Its important countries and health departments keep rejuvenating their Vector control tools to stay ahead on the curve with malaria elimination efforts

Malaria: A Massive Economic Burden 

Malaria is not just a disease that causes mortality and morbidity, its detrimental impact is very huge to societies, countries, communities. The total cost of malaria is enormous when measured from the perspective of lives lost, time lost due to illness and in terms of economic loss. This economic loss is both on the front of personal economy front – arising from loss of wages as people can’t go to work or school, the money they spend on treatment, time taking care of sick children and national front as loss of productivity, funds spend by the government on treatment and malaria control causes a large national economic burden. 

Malaria is a perfect example of how a disease can keep people & countries poor as it continues pushes humans into the vicious cycle of poverty – 

Hence, we need to eliminate Malaria from the earth for a better future. Hence, the world is striving to eliminate malaria globally by 2040. India has set a target for 2030. Across the globe lot of progress has been made on malaria, however, still, there is lot of challenges on the way to win against the battle against malaria. 

COVID19 and Malaria (and other Vector-Borne diseases (VBDs) )

The sudden spread of the COVID19 across the world has been a grave public health concern and created a huge disruption to life, economy and other public health activities. Every country on the planet has now got COVID19 cases.  While the fight against Covid-19 must continue, we need to ensure that Vigor in the battle against Vector-Borne Diseases must not reduce by any chance in the present scenario. This is very pertinent due to the following reasons: – 

1) Healthcare system under pressure: 

Due to COVID19, medical health systems across the world are under tremendous pressure. It would be very difficult for the health ecosystem of many countries to take the onslaught of more patient especially arising due to the outbreak of another disease like Malaria.

Any outbreak of such diseases will severely impact the capability of the healthcare system in even handling the COVID19. 

2) Malaria and VBDs season

mosquito season is quite near in many countries, especially in South Asia including India. The monsoon would soon arrive in India, and immediately after/during the rainy season, every year we see a spike in the cases of vector-borne diseases like malaria. Hence, it’s very important that this extensive vector control (mosquito control) measure are employed so to ensure that Malaria/Dengue cases are controlled. 

3) Diseases don’t wait for one another: 

History shows us that diseases do not occur in isolation, neither they wait for one another. Previous experience from EBOLA outbreak 5-6 years back showed an increase in malaria cases. 

4) Economic and Social Impact 

COVID19 is already causing a massive negative economic and social impact, and with Malaria known to be of such a high economic burden on people, societies and countries, it might be catastrophic to face a large outbreak of malaria during the COVID19 pandemic.

Why Focus on Vector control is quite important during this time

I believe during these time special efforts and focus should be made on Vector Control & community awareness as it helps to prevent malaria and can be done a scale on the community level. 

One of the most important things to understand is that during this lockdown – Staying at home might prevent COVID19 Infection but will not protect from an infectious bite of mosquito causing malaria or dengue” – but Vector Control & community engagement can protect people from mosquitoes’ bites & related diseases.

Some of the vector control inventions such as larviciding and space spray efforts can be continued even during the lockdown to keep the mosquito density under control, especially in countries like India. As Vector control prevents diseases such as malaria and Dengue to a large extent, it will also help not to increase the burden on the healthcare system of countries.

Finally, it’s no doubt testing times for all of us, but nothing can beat the resilience of humans….

I would end my article with the hope that 

“We shall overcome both malaria and COVID19” 

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