Malaria and mosquitoes: A tough tag team to beat

Malaria is one tough disease to beat. It infects about 200 million people and despite enormous efforts and impressive gains, it still kills about 400,000 people each year.
Scientists say the wide use of insecticide-treated bed nets is driving changes in malaria mosquitoes. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Scientists say the wide use of insecticide-treated bed nets is driving changes in malaria mosquitoes. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Malaria is one tough disease. It infects about 200 million people and despite enormous efforts and impressive gains, it still kills about 400,000 people each year. Last December, we told the story of a group of young researchers in the middle of Tanzania who are trying to stop the mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite from one person to the next.

One of the many hurdles they face comes down to a numbers game. There are billions of mosquitoes laying eggs all the time. They are a mutation machine and resistance to the most common insecticide has spread rapidly.

The red dots in the map below are the places with confirmed cases of resistance.

Insecticide resistance has spread across sub-Saharan Africa since 2000 and threatens malaria control efforts. The extent is greater than the map reveals (red=confirmed/yellow=suspected) because many areas go untested. (IRMapper.com/Allsion Graves)

 

Resistance and other adaptations threaten the success of the most effective weapon to date against malaria -- insecticide treated bed nets. These nets, delivered by the millions to Africa, not only protect the person sleeping under them, they weaken and kill mosquitoes before they can infect someone else.

Unless the bugs have adapted.

In the battle between man and malaria, adaptation is powerful and unpredictable.

To show how that has played out, PolitiFact produced a short animated video. It’s aimed at middle and high school students, but quite frankly, most people will learn a lot from it. A team of students at the Maryland Institute College of Art turned our script into something anyone can enjoy. The Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs vetted it for accuracy and will help share it with classrooms everywhere.

In the end, our message is that in the face of a very tricky disease, it is the power of our ideas that will carry us through. Money and commitment are essential, but ideas for new solutions and new approaches are the keys to beating the bugs at their own game.