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No Me Moleste Mosquito

World distribution of dengue viruses and their mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, in 2008

World distribution of dengue viruses and their mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, in 2008

A recent Miami Herald article sparked my interest for the small insect. Its name is Aedes Aegypti, one of the 3500 mosquito species identified so far, known for spreading dengue fever, but also the Chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.

The Miami Herald article describes how Mexico is currently struggling to counter a resurgence of dengue fever. It is not the only Latin American country dealing with the buzzing issue. Brazil and Argentina have apparently reported record numbers of cases this year.

At first, hearing about yet another disease striking Mexico alarmed me. It was only after reading more on the issue – as in the case of the H1N1 virus – that I was settled. Dengue fever has a relatively low death rate. Only 2.5 percent of hospitalized patients do not survive the disease. However, the tropical febrile disease is particularly costly, with patients requiring constant and long-term monitoring. Therefore, in the case of Mexico this we know for sure: The spreading disease will strike tourism and the economy as a whole yet another blow.

With the fever increasing rapidly in tropical and subtropical areas, we ask: What can be done against the dangerous disease and its carrier – the mosquito? Researchers all over the world are testing dengue fever vaccines and at the same time considerable efforts are being invested in mosquito eradication.

Of the existing population policies and programs the ones of Singapore appear to be the most developed ones. After the 2005 dengue outbreak the country launched enhanced measures, including the introduction of fines for those who allow mosquitoes to breed in their homes and also for those found with standing water at construction sites (standing water being the larval hatching grounds of the Aedes Aegypti).
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A New Global Fund?

More healthy mothers and children is the goal.

More healthy mothers and children is the goal / photo: Alemush, flickr

“Why don’t we have a Global Fund for maternal health, like the one for TB, malaria and AIDS?”, implored Dr Siriel Nanzia Massawe, an obstetrician in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

I was jolted by this desperate doctor’s question, buried in a recent New York Times article about the prevalence of maternal deaths during pregnancy and childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa.

You mean we don’t have a Global Fund fighting maternal – and for that matter, child – mortality? I wondered incredulously.

After all, two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for a significant reduction in child and maternal mortality by 2015. And former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan established the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2001 to reach this third health-related MDG.

So why has only the MDG addressing communicable diseases been deemed worthy of a Global Fund? After all, the international community is far behind on all MDG health-related targets: maternal mortality has been stagnant for two decades; more than nine million children under age five still die every year; and AIDS infection rates are still too high for antiretroviral treatments to keep pace.

Clearly, a more synergized and streamlined approach to the three health-related MDGs is desperately needed. Each one impacts the other: For example, AIDS and malaria cause specific complications for pregnant women and their fetus’s development.

In the end, perhaps every one of these MDG initiatives could be more fully realized if greater attention were paid to how they interact. Has the time for an integrated Global Fund for Health arrived?

“…All I Got Was Swine Flu!”

Screenshot of online t-shirt vendor

The latest in swine flu fashion

“Somebody I know went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy swine flu!” So goes a crass joke gracing some new t-shirt designs.

But Mexicans aren’t laughing. As these tourist t-shirts illustrate, the country isn’t just battling the physical effects of swine flu but the psychological ones as well.

While the H1N1 virus appears to have originated in either the US or Mexico, most attention has focused south of the US border where more illnesses and deaths have been reported. Some in the US have even taken to calling the virus “the Mexican flu,” using it as an excuse to stoke anti-immigrant fervor.

And the humiliation hasn’t stopped there. Discrimination has spread across the globe as quickly as the virus itself. In Paris, airport employees have refused to touch luggage coming off Mexican planes, while in China, authorities have forced healthy Mexican travelers into quarantine, delivering food to their hotels like they were hostages under siege.

With such negative attention focused on his country, Mexican President Felipe Calderon lashed out on Sunday against those “acting out of ignorance and disinformation” and implementing “discriminatory measures.”

While abhorrent, the stigma stinging Mexicans is no surprise. This kind of scapegoating is an unfortunate – but not unexpected – element of infectious disease epidemics that is often used to stoke pre-existing prejudices, according to experts.

“It’s fear of people we do not know or who look different,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan and author of When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed. “You take the fear of the unknown that already exists and then combine that with a real or perceived threat that is contagious disease, and it’s explosive.”

While the swine flu threat is proving to be more perceived than real, how will fear-mongering manifest the inevitable next time around – especially when we’re facing down something more insidious than the flu?

Screenshot: Zazzle.com

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