Reality Byte: Mosquitoes kill one child every minute. What it takes to get them all out?

Flying, fierce, fiends – mosquitoes have swarmed our lives. These vector-borne disease transmitting pests are causing immense misery around the world. Malaria, dengue, yellow fever and schistosomiasis are among the top contenders for increasing mortality rates among human inhabitants. Going by recent WHO statistics, over 3.3 billion – nearly half of the world’s human population is at risk. Citizens of developing countries like Africa, Cambodia or India are the most vulnerable, making it the world’s fifth big killer in low-income countries with over 90 per cent of the world’s malarial deaths occurring in Africa alone. Children of these countries are at the greatest possible risk with one child dying every minute due to vector and vector-associated diseases. So how does one tackle this menace?

Mosquito repellent

Repellents over Control
Are technologies like electronic vapor-machines, coils and DEET sprays sufficient solutions to this persistent problem? The answer is, No. Ever since consumers have become more health-conscious and aware, the mosquito repellent industry has been buzzing.  Soaring at a whopping Rs 1600 crore and a compounded annual growth-rate (CGAR) of over 15 per cent, vector-control seems to have lost focus to repellents. Moreover, with the urban populace choosing convenience and comfort over effective vector-control solutions, mosquitoes have found new, fertile breeding grounds. Flower pots, old tires, drains and leaky faucets to aquariums, storage tanks and swimming pools, the mosquito is now breeding more than ever.

Apart from insecticide-containing sprays, current repellents, as the name suggests, do not kill (control) but only repel mosquitoes by temporarily preventing them from attacking a host. These include creams, lotions, wipes, vaporizers, sprays, foams, mats, coils and electronic buzzers. But in reality, how effective are they?  The least functional, off the list, is the latter – the electronic buzzer. Frequently under fire for being no more than a marketing gimmick and a sheer waste of money , there seems to be no concrete evidence that the product repulses mosquitoes by imitating the sound of dragonflies, a formidable mosquito enemy and predator. Although effective, creams, wipes, lotions, sprays and foams are frequently battered with allergy-related complaints, while fumes from vaporizers, coils and mats have been charge-sheeted with pulmonary-related problems. So while mosquito bites get nastier, innovators are literally burning the midnight ‘coil,’ trying and testing safer, effective, durable repellent technologies for use by both, rural as well as urban human populations.

Controlling Mosquitoes, Saving the Planet
With popular repellents coming under the scanner for containing toxic pollutant properties, the repellent industry shifted its focus to Nature. Conducting extensive research, companies as well as individual innovators sought effective, natural and safe mosquito repellent solutions. Amalgamating traditional practices with the best technological support available, researchers generated a host of simple, yet effective holistic alternatives. The most useful natural remedy was adapted from the popular medicinal, Indian sub-tropic tree – Neem. Celebrated for its medicinal properties in India since time immemorial, the world and science, too, acknowledged innumerable properties this tree has to offer.
Burning Neem tree leaves has been an effective ancient Indian practice that’s known to keep mosquitoes at bay. Technology took it up a notch by extracting Neem oil and converting the same into a variety of products including creams and sprays. In ’94 and ’96 it was discovered that burning Neem Oil, when mixed with kerosene was extremely effective in repelling the dreaded, malaria-causing anopheles breed of mosquitoes. The same when infused with coconut oil also proved excellent dermatologic use.

Citronella and Lemon-Eucalyptus oil sprays are another set of effectual alternatives to DEET. Fragrant, light and extremely effective, these oils are known to last longer and provide better protection from bites than any popular insecticide. An embodiment of modern technology, a new-age mosquito repellent that mimics the human body is set to hit the markets soon. The device programmed with human nuances, first attracts mosquitoes and then eliminates them without releasing harmful chemicals.

Getting them All Out
In a continuously evolving marketplace, innovation is the key. Innovation is breeding to multiply even outside a research lab. With open source innovation gaining momentum, it has heralded the involvement of customers or end-users as co-developers of the products they consume. As they say, a problem shared is a problem solved. We have taken up the challenge to fight mosquitoes. Board the wagon to reduce mortality amongst children due to a minuscule mosquito at play.

Call for mosquito repellent technologies.
Infect the community to catch a solution.