In 1961, Venezuela was the first nation in the world to be certified by the World Health Organization as malaria-free in its most populous areas. Despite this impressive achievement, there has been a rise in cases of the disease over the past year like nothing seen in over 50 years. However, there may be hope in the form of a new kind of mosquito trap that utilizes solar power.
With the economic troubles that many Venezuelans are currently facing, it is not uncommon for people to travel away from their hometowns in search of better work opportunities. One of the most common places to search for a job is the nation’s gold mines.
The mines of Venezuela are watery and stagnant. This provides the perfect environment for malaria-carrying mosquitoes to thrive. Many miners contract the disease and then return home as a carrier. Access to medication and mosquito fumigation is often scarce, and there is often nothing to prevent workers from infecting others in their hometown.
Looking at the numbers, cases of malaria in Venezuela rose by 72 percent in the first six months of 2016 to 125,000 cases. More than half of the nation’s states have reported cases, and the disease is even reappearing in Caracas, the country’s capital city. In one public high school alone, nearly a quarter of the students have contracted malaria within the past year. The principal of the school, as well as several of his family members, have also contracted the disease.
Much of the problem is political, considering that workers are struggling enough to seek work in potentially dangerous places. Furthermore, politicians are not always willing to work with public health officials. Reversing the damaging spread of malaria in Venezuela would be made much easier with a concerted cooperative effort between leaders of the political and public health sectors. However, many political officials are unwilling to meet with health workers in states that have expressed any political disagreement with the national government.
Amid these issues, a new kind of mosquito trap holds hope for reducing malaria in Venezuela. The new trap has been tested on an island in Kenya that has a high number of malaria cases. The traps are powered by solar electricity and use human odor as bait for the insects.
The traps were able to reduce the mosquito population by 70 percent. Additionally, houses that contained traps were found to have 30 percent fewer malaria victims as compared to houses that did not contain traps.
The baiting element of the traps is made possible by using human odor as well as a chemical that mimics carbon dioxide. The concept of using carbon dioxide in mosquito traps is not new, but the traps cost hundreds of dollars and are less effective.
The biggest drawback to this kind of mosquito trap is that they are more expensive than other kinds of traps because they require rooftop solar panels to function. However, the added cost may well be worth it for residents who could use the solar power to charge electronics or power lights.
While the cause of spreading malaria in Venezuela is partly political, the resolution requires that current cases be addressed and not passed on to others. This new design of mosquito trap accomplishes both things and has the great potential to serve as a victory in the fight against malaria in Venezuela.
– Nathaniel Siegel