The New York Times reports that a “squadron of young scientists and an army of volunteers” are “waging an all-out war on a creature that threatens the health of more people than any other on earth: the mosquito.”
They are testing new insecticides and ingenious new ways to deliver them. They are peering in windows at night, watching for the mosquitoes that home in on sleeping people. They are collecting blood — from babies, from moto-taxi drivers, from goat herders and from their goats — to track the parasites the mosquitoes carry. But Eric Ochomo, the entomologist leading this effort on the front lines of global public health, stood recently in the swampy grass, laptop in hand, and acknowledged a grim reality: “It seems as though the mosquitoes are winning.”
Less than a decade ago, it was the humans who appeared to have gained the clear edge in the fight — more than a century old — against the mosquito. But over the past few years, that progress has not only stalled, it has reversed. The insecticides used since the 1970s, to spray in houses and on bed nets to protect sleeping children, have become far less effective; mosquitoes have evolved to survive them. After declining to a historic low in 2015, malaria cases and deaths are rising… This past summer, the United States saw its first locally transmitted cases of malaria in 20 years, with nine cases reported, in Texas, Florida and Maryland. “The situation has become challenging in new ways in places that have historically had these mosquitoes, and also at the same time other places are going to face new threats because of climate and environmental factors,” Ochomo said…
Malaria has killed more people than any other disease over the course of human history. Until this century, the battle against the parasite was badly one-sided. Then, between 2000 and 2015, malaria cases dropped by one-third worldwide, and mortality decreased by nearly half, because of widespread use of insecticides inside homes, insecticide-coated bed nets and better treatments. Clinical trials showed promise for malaria vaccines that might protect the children who make up the bulk of malaria deaths. That success lured new investment and talk of wiping the disease out altogether.
But malaria deaths, which fell to a historic low of about 575,000 in 2019, rose significantly over the next two years and stood at 620,000 in 2021, the last year for which there is global data.
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