controlling malaria outbreaks
Combating poverty drives innovation. In order to reduce the suffering from poverty, countries investigate cost effective methods of preventing poverty and reducing the negative effects of poverty, such as disease or malnutrition. Confronting public health concerns, like malaria, in developing countries inspires scientific innovations to end the problem in an efficient yet inexpensive way. In this way, controlling malaria outbreaks improves health care worldwide.

Malaria is preventable and treatable, yet the disease killed over 600,000 people in 2012. The Center for Disease Control reported that malaria outbreaks are the leading cause of death in many developing countries and disproportionately affects young children, pregnant women and travelers.

Malaria is both a symptom and cause of poverty. Impoverished people struggle to take preventative measures against malaria, and if individuals contract malaria, the cost of treatment and the inability to work burden them. Furthermore, countries must create and manage health facilities and treatments. The Center for Disease Control estimated the direct cost at $12 billion per year. This creates a cycle of poverty in which both people and nations are unable to escape.

Some of the solutions, though, destroy too many mosquitoes, which affects the environment. Many predators depend on mosquitoes as their primary food source, so the ecological effect of eliminating all mosquitoes would be significant.

Because of this, researchers are investigating effective preventive measures to target a specific type of mosquito. The Economist reports that Dr. Nikolai Windbichler and Dr. Andrea Crisanti found a method of killing only the mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus, or the ones that carry malaria. By ensuring that the mosquitoes no longer produce female mosquitoes, Dr. Windbichler and Dr. Crisanti ensure that the mosquitoes cannot reproduce or draw blood and spread the malaria parasite.

The researchers designed a protein called endonuclease, which erodes the X chromosome of the mosquitoes. Producing female offspring requires two X chromosomes, and the egg only holds X chromosomes. As a result, if the protein limits the production of X chromosomes in male mosquitoes, it will limit the amount of female mosquitoes produced. A male dominated species of mosquitoes would lower the population as a whole and limit the transmission of malaria.

However, the Economist notes that natural selection will eventually allow the mosquitoes to evolve past the protein, so this solution depends on the elimination of the parasite within the species.

Ecologist Phil Lounibos expresses some skepticism of this type of solution. He believes that eliminating or decreasing the population of one species will not affect the spread of the disease. In a study he led, multiple genus of mosquitoes would cross inseminate and spread the parasite to other types of mosquitoes.

Stalling the disease, though, could allow countries to divert funds from malaria treatment to increasing economic productivity and improving the lives of the country’s impoverished. Developing new methods of malaria control presents exciting possibilities for controlling and combating malaria.

Between 2000 and 2012, malaria interventions saved over 3 million lives, and scientific innovation could drastically increase this number.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: The Economist, Center for Disease Control, WHO, Nature
Photo: The Health Site