The 2014 World Health Day focuses on Vector-Borne diseases

WHO_SHollyman_woman&net Tanzania
Image : WHO/S.Hollyman

From guest blogger: Dr Joseph Ana, Editor-in-Chief, BMJ West Africa and member of the steering group of the health information forum HIFA2015 . He can be contacted directly by email: jneana@yahoo.co.uk

It
is right that the World Health Organisation (WHO) should focus on vector borne diseases this year, and by so doing raise awareness, disseminate information and improve, hopefully prompt, more effort at preventing and managing the myriad diseases that vectors inflict on man, especially in the Tropics and Sub-tropics.

Whether it is from the arthropod invertebrates of mosquitoes (malaria, dengue, yellow fever), sandflies (skin and systemic Leishmaniasis), bugs (Louse-borne typhus), and ticks (Lyme disease); or from crabs/crayfish (paragonimiasis) and snails (schistosomiasis), or from vertebrate vectors like bats (rabies, ebola disease), vectors are responsible for a large chunk of the disease burden thathealth systems across the globe have to deal with, particularly in the poorer tropical and sub-tropical parts. There is a popular saying that the Traditional African way of cooking all meals ‘well done’ and avoiding eating raw sea food (crabs and crayfish) has helped to keep to a minimum diseases from these vectors.  Snail is also a very popular delicacy which is served ‘well cooked’ for the same reason.

The World has experienced increased incidence of arthropod borne disease since the 1970s 1,2,4, especially in the regions with the weakest health systems such as the tropics and subtropics. But for several reasons the temperate parts of the globe are also affected, which is why it is apt and timely that the WHO is focusing world attention on vector-borne diseases this year (2014). The reasons that account for the global nature of the menace of vector-borne diseases include increased travel by all modes; poor public health practice and infrastructure; massive population increases with urbanization and slums; poor surveillance and control measures; changing agricultural practices and deforestation; lack of effective drug and insecticide control leading to resistant vectors and pathogens; inadequate political will;  etc.

The World should recognize, support and assist those countries where good public health practice has shown that control (and elimination) of vectors leads to decrease in vector borne diseases and help to extend such best practices to regions that are lagging behind. A good example of such best practice in the tropics is Cross River State of Nigeria which has a deliberate Public Health Policy of making its major urban areas ‘Clean and Green’ beginning from Calabar, the state capital.

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Climate change – will it affect spread of vector borne diseases?

Climate change is going to mean mosquito-borne diseases
spread north out of the tropics right? That seems to be the story the news media are giving us. But it is really the case? Do we really need to start thinking about buying bednets to protect against mozzy bites?




Aedes mosquito(CDC)As editor of Global Health database I was invited to the ISNTD Bites
seminar in London, at the Natural History Museum where the issue was hotly debated. The session on climate change and disease vectors showed that
while biology of disease vectors like mosquitoes and sandflies is affected by temperature there are several other
factors that influence spread of disease vectors and the diseases they carry that may mean they don’t spread in the way straight climate maps predict.
Among these are land use, urbanisation and global trade. In fact, the
entomologists at the seminar were arguing that climate change issues are
distracting researchers from looking more into factors that are having drastic effects on the spread of disease vectors
and disease right now.

 

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