Our colleagues at Roll Back Malaria remind is that 20 August is marked annually as World Mosquito Day since doctor Sir Ronald Ross first identified female Anopheles mosquitoes as the vector that transmits malaria between humans. This year, 2015 is the 118th annual observance.
It may seem obvious to state, but while malaria is carried by mosquitoes, not all types of mosquitoes carry malaria. And more specifically our control measures for combating the anopheles mosquitoes that carry malaria are not specifically aimed at aedes or culex. This has not stopped public health workers in the field, and health worker trainees in the classroom from broadcasting messages to the public implying that the control and destruction of any mosquito will prevent malaria.
In terms of health communication, if we convince people that any mosquito carries malaria, but institute measures like long lasting insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying aimed at anopheles mosquitoes, we may lose some credibility as people will still see other types of mosquitoes flying about. And then when people develop another febrile illness from bites of those other mosquitoes, they may not differentiate illness types, but say our interventions do not work.
The conflation of all mosquitoes with malaria is seen clearly in the image at the right from a common malaria poster. The dirty gutters may contain culex larvae; the cans and bottles may contain aedes larvae. Obviously none of these mosquito species is good for human health, so can we achieve clarity in health communication about mosquito-borne disease on World Mosquito Day and thereafter?
We often forget that people in the community are quite observant of their environment; sometimes more so the the public health inspectors who try to teach them about ways of preventing malaria by reducing mosquito breeding. Villagers deal with mosquitoes on a daily basis and can distinguish the coloring and posture of the different species.
Instead of telling people what to do, it would be more helpful for public health workers to engage in dialogue with people to learn what they know about different types of mosquitoes and different forms of febrile illness. Maybe by learning first from the people, health workers can then become better teachers about integrated vector management.
PS – maybe we can also educate the mass media to stop putting pictures of Aedes aegypti on their malaria stories!