The fight against emerging vector-borne diseases

June 12, 2019

For the past three days, scientist and policymakers from all over the world, came together to join forces in the fight against emerging vector-borne diseases.

More than 700,000 people die from an infectious disease transmitted by insects every year. Despite these huge numbers, scientists are still struggling to get such diseases under control. Medical scientists do work on medications and vaccinations but they often remain insufficient. Meanwhile, vector biologists are working on measures to combat the vectors, most of which are based on chemical pesticides (insecticides).

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Vector control is the answer

Although pesticides, medication and vaccination have been very successful and led to a significant reduction in the number of deaths, it may not be working for long now that insects are developing resistance to drugs and insecticides.

Everybody at the international conference: innovative strategies innovative strategies for vector control, agreed that if we really want to prevent new global spread of dengue and chikungunya viruses and outbreaks of Zika virus disease and yellow fever, we need to control the vector. We need to engage locale communities so that they understand why it is necessary that they participate in control the diseases that affect them.   and we need to allured policymakers so that they are aware and continue funding these activities, because without their support, we may get new global crisis’s like Zika.

If we fail to find other good methods to eliminate the relevant pathogens, the entire world population may soon face health risks. We can prevent this, and therefore we must.
Willem Takken, professor of Medical and Veterinary Entomology at Wageningen University & Research

Global Vector Control Response

Wageningen University, co-sponsored by the World Health Organization, organized the international conference on ‘Innovative strategies for vector control’. During this 3-day event  over 150 scientist and policymakers, discussed how the global community responds to mosquito-borne disease emergencies, as defined in WHO’s Global Vector Control Response, will govern the agenda.

The unprecedented outbreak of Zika virus in South-America gained global attention in 2015 and caused much concern, especially because of its unknown route of transmission and onward spread at that time. Most notably, women that had been infected with the virus during pregnancy had a heightened risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly (underdeveloped skull and brain). During the epidemic, more than 8000 children were born with serious birth defects. Just a few years before, another mosquito-borne virus, called chikungunya, sickened many people in the same region, and the virus can still cause chronic pains in patients that were once bitten by an infected mosquito.

These new diseases attract much attention in the media, mostly because of their apparent rapid spread and mysterious symptoms, such as microcephaly. Other diseases, however, such as malaria and lymphatic filariasis, still kill or disable thousands of people every year, but these statistics hardly reach the headlines. Strategies to combat the disease-carrying mosquitoes and flies are largely failing, mostly because of widespread insecticide resistance. Rapid and unplanned urbanization, climate change and increased travel and trade only aggravate this situation.

Mosquito research

On the positive side, there is no lack of enthusiasm and drive among academia to come up with alternative solutions. Quite regularly we can read ‘breakthroughs’ in mosquito research, such as the use of genetically modified mosquitoes that are not capable of transmitting viruses or parasites, or of new traps baited with smelly human odours to massively lure and catch mosquitoes. The question remains, however, to what extent these novel innovations can make it to the market, or better to the average citizen that has become dangerously feverish from a mosquito bite.

With this meeting, the organizers Willem Takken and Sander Koenraadt aim to bridge the gap between academia and policy makers. The specific aim is to evaluate progress in the Global Vector Control Response and develop more robust plans for the future. WHO has pledged support for this strategy and now it is time to critically reflect on where we are and what gaps remain to be filled.