20 August 2010

Random thoughts on mosquitoes

With dengue in the family, here are some totally random thoughts generated by mosquitoes on the mind.

  • Come monsoon and dengue is hitting the headlines once again, along with malaria in Delhi, Mumbai, and abroad too..near Manila.
  • There is no vaccine and no cure for dengue, and one can be cynical and wonder whether the H1N1 vaccine came out so quickly precisely because it affected the richer countries too. 
  • Dengue is in fact a part of the list of Neglected Tropical Diseases with the WHO, diseases that affect low income countries the most. Within these countries, the burden of course falls disproportionately on the poorer sections of society, who have to grapple with loss of daily income, low productivity, extra healthcare expenses, family support issues etc.
  • But it is true that research in tropical diseases barely gets the kind of attention it deserves. An article by Sandeep Kishore, Gloria Tavera and Peter Hotez talks of the innovation gap in the 'diseases of poverty' asking for universities to step into the breach and work in this area: 'Devising and developing therapies for the diseases of poverty is not profitable, but the dividends of developing life-saving therapies are priceless. If our universities won't deliver, who will?'
  • Of course a large part of the problem stems from lack of sanitation and this requires community education and more emphasis on general hygiene, especially in congested urban areas. 
  • And last but not the least, what part do mosquitoes play in the ecosystem? This article in Nature debates these points, concluding  And so, while humans inadvertently drive beneficial species, from tuna to corals, to the edge of extinction, their best efforts can't seriously threaten an insect with few redeeming features. "They don't occupy an unassailable niche in the environment," says entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida. "If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over."  There are however quite a few many comments at the end of that article left by readers pleading for the right of mosquitoes to live and asking for the eradication of homo sapiens instead, which reminded me of James Thurber's Interview with a Lemming
PS. For those who are wondering why a post on mosquitoes should appear in a blog on rethinking development economics, it's because health is by far the most neglected aspect in development and by economists, even though it is so obviously linked to productivity. 

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