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Six new ways to control malaria mosquitoes

February 14, 2013 - 07:32 -- Bart G.J. Knols

It is well known that creative thinking is affected by environmental variables. That's why researchers engage in 'off-site' events. Take them out of their comfort zone of the lab or office and miracles may happen.

I am in Pangani, Tanzania, as I write this. Sitting amongst the palm trees overlooking the Indian ocean at Emayani Beach Lodge run by my brother. Thinking back about last week, when we had a kick-off meeting with 14 scientists and entrepreneurs in Ifakara, hosted by the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI). Although this year marks my 20th anniversary of working with IHI, quite a few of us were new to IHI, new to Tanzania, or even new to Africa...

The meeting served as the launch of a big EU project, with the aim to develop a mosquito contamination device (MCD). Based on the fact that pyrethroid resistance and outdoor biting are compromising the future potency of insecticide-treated bednets and even indoor residual spraying, our aim is to come up with completely new strategies to control malaria vectors. Solutions that incorporate green approaches like entomopathogenic fungi that we have been researching for over a decade now.
 
Miracles did indeed happen. Although the participants, from Penn State University (USA), CTF2000 (Belgium), Biogents (Germany), IHI (Tanzania) and In2Care (Netherlands) were quite new to each other, bringing them together in Idete, a small village in the Kilombero valley where malaria remains a problem, was instrumental in getting the ideas flowing. Under a large mango tree we all sat down after looking at many houses in the village. No powerpoint, no projector, no computers. A stick was used to illustrate ideas in the sand (discussing ideas can be that simple).
 
This field visit was the turning point in the meeting - after it, within hours, there were 10 new strategies to control malaria vectors on the table. Excitement took over, collaborative thinking and a free flow of ideas without anyone holding back or being afraid to contribute followed. The creative juices were flowing like adrenaline. Although all were good ideas, we narrowed them down from 10 to 6. Amazing: six new ways to control malaria vectors, based on one half-day field visit, and based on intensive discussions on the behaviour of malaria vectors and the tools we have at hand to control them. Plus, significantly, based on bringing people with completely different backgrounds into the game. Some participants were completely new to malaria but have specialties that proved vital to come up with new ideas. The fruit is always hanging lower at the interface of disciplines…
 
What the new ideas are will be written up soon and shared with you all. In a paper co-authored by all participants so that all have an equal share in ownership of these new approaches. Next, each of the parties mentioned above will take the lead in the R&D process to develop prototypes that can be tested in the superb semi-field facilities that IHI has constructed over the last year. Not at the end of the 3-year EU grant, but within months.
 
Twenty years ago I conducted my first experiments in Idete village. The same place where we all sat down under the big mango tree last week. Over the last two decades numerous studies have been conducted in Idete by scientists from IHI but beyond bednets its inhabitants have never seen any other intervention emerging from all this research. This has got to change - science has to culminate in action on the ground. It helps that IHI during a recent stakeholders meeting also concluded that research has to translate into product development and has to deliver actionable and tangible outcomes. That good science should yield good scientific publications that serve as the starting point and not the endpoint of our work...
 
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Comments

Ricardo Ataide's picture
Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

A meeting about malaria elimination strategies held in an actual malaria affected village? Who would have thought these could be held outside big hotel chains, modern convention centres and fancy Universities...

Ricardo Ataíde

Submitted by Alister Kandyata on

Quite an interesting story. Eagerly awaiting the publication of the six new vector control methods.

It is quite concerning that most researches do not produce benefits that the participating communities can enjoy. Returning now and again, to a village/ community to collect mosquitoes and collect other research specimen/samples, some members of the community ask when they would get the benefits of taking part in the research. in worst situations, some villagers have not allowed us to work in their houses. *** Are scientists behaving like politicians in pre election campaigns???? they promise you heaven and can not deliver but still come back when they need your vote.***

Angela Harris's picture
Submitted by Angela Harris on

This sounds like a very exciting meeting. Just as it should be, I'm sure many will eagerly await the ideas that came out of it. It is certainly my observation through recent meetings with research groups that too many are going in, carrying out research and then moving on. The benefits for the people living in the test sites seem fairly minimal.

I fear many researchers have lost sight of the end goal in the 'publish or perish' work ethic many of us now find ourselves in. More of us need to get back to basics and remember why it is we're doing the research in the first place.

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Thanks Angela, could not agree more with you!
Best,
Bart

Andre Laas's picture
Submitted by Andre Laas on

Have to agree wholeheartedly with Bart, Angela is spot on with this statement:

"I fear many researchers have lost sight of the end goal in the 'publish or perish' work ethic many of us now find ourselves in. More of us need to get back to basics and remember why it is we're doing the research in the first place."

It has got to be my greatest frustration!

Submitted by Sanjay Dosaj (not verified) on

Malaria can be eliminated without using any insecticide or drugs within one generation of Anopheles.
Please see the link to my paper
ECOENGINEERING - To eliminate MALARIA without INSECTICIDE OR DRUGS.

http://www.rapsr.com/images/thirdissue/ora-5-90-96.pdf

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Dear Sanjay,
I applaud your highly creative thinking in this article...but is there any indication that this approach could work? Lab data? Field data?
Bart

Submitted by Sanjay Dosaj (not verified) on

Thanks for your interest, but this is a strategy whose viability can be tested only in the field. I am on the job looking for any agency that would co-operate with me in this work so that this strategy may be implemented and varified in the field. Once varified it will prove to be a boon to humanity because not only malaria, this technique can be utilised in elimination of other vector bourne diseases by selecting a proper replacement species.

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Malaria control without using insecticides or drugs could in principle be done through genetic control like the Sterile Insect Technique. I don't quite fancy the idea of having exotic bees released in large numbers, nor is there any proof that they will keep male mosquitoes at bay and thus interrupt mating. I normally like wild ideas, but this one is a bit too wild I'm afraid...

Ricardo Ataide's picture
Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

Dear Sanjay,

You state in your paper that: "Brazil is a home for both Megalopta and Malaria because Megalopta builds its nest in dead wood, a 4% decrease in forest was associated with 50% increase in malaria in Western Brazil [17]. The reason is that Megalopta constructs its nest in dead wood and with deforestation the population of Megalopta reduces resulting in an increase in population of Anopheles and malaria. "

I believe a few things are important here. One is reading the paper to which the Podcast that you have cited (reference 17 in your paper) is referring to! You should then realise that several factors besides deforestation were associated with an increase in malaria reported in that paper, including an increase in population, an increase in diagnostic tools and surveillance, an increase in the aquaculture practices, an increase in migration etc, etc. Another important thing is to note the lack of any data on which to base your assumption that bees disappeared from that ecosystem and that that loss is in anyway linked to an increase in mosquito populations (and we are talking about the 'right' kind of mosquitoes). Thirdly, it is always important to remember that association and causation are very distinct.

Not to say that your theory is not correct, but I believe you should be more careful in the assertions we make in your papers.

Ricardo Ataíde

Submitted by Sanjay Dosaj (not verified) on

Dear Ricardo, thanks for joining, we should realise that we can not keep a vaccuum in any ecosystem, the availability of food will trigger an increase in the population of the most suitable species as in the case with pigeons in metro cities. The most suitable species in this case is Anopheles owing to its great fertility (no. Of eggs laid at a time). If any how its eggs are rendered nonviable the second most suited species will automatically take over the food sources and replace it.
@Knols, you may feel this idea to be wild but, I am sure you will agree with the above point. You will agree thatinsects unlike humans will not fight over a food source, if a flower is occupied by one, other insect will instinctivelly move to some other flower, this is the logic behind keeping the males at bay. The evidence of Brazil has been used to confirm that the bee actually , by virtue of its limited flying capacity, keeps anopheles at bay and controls the population.s
Let's not confuse ourselvel by straying our thoughts, I would draw your attention towards the expenditure incurred by govt. of India annually for malaria protection is a whooping Rs. 4,000 millions apart from the share of WHO. If only a fraction of this amount is utilised for a trial project in one city we can practically assess the success of the strategy. Remember confusing is always easier than convincing.

Ricardo Ataide's picture
Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

Hi Sanjay,

I will be the first to admit here that I know absolutely nothing about insect behaviour or what the most suitable species to occupy a new environment would be. In any case I still have not seen any hard evidence provided by you showing that removing bees (or introducing bees) will increase/decrease the anopheline population. I would imagine that the insect population dynamics in the Brazilian Amazon is a bit more complex than the bee/mosquito dichotomy. I wait to be corrected.

I also have to remind you again that the only association you found between lack of bees and increased anopheles populations was in fact an association between deforestation rates and increase in reported cases of malaria, which you have to admit is far from what you want to show. I believe your theory needs some practical evidence before it can be considered further.

Also, it is somewhat perilous, I think, to speak so naively about the mass introduction of foreign species (in this case your brazilian bees) into a myriad of new ecosystems. There are numerous examples out there demonstrating the fallacies of such approaches.

Ricardo Ataíde

Submitted by Sanjay Dosaj (not verified) on

Well if you do not know any thing about insect behaviour I may clarify how many times you have seen two insects of different species on one flower at the same time? This we can understan by virtue of common sence and this forms the basis of this strategy. However, I looked forward to a little co operation from your side if possible or capable, but any how convincing any individual is not going to solve any purpose.

Ricardo Ataide's picture
Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

Hi Sanjay,

I'm always humbled by those who so openly glorify the virtues of common sense against the reasoning and facts of science. Nevertheless, I have to admit that common sense just doesn't cut it for me. I mean, if we were going on common sense alone, then we would all still believe the Sun revolves around a flat Earth... So, since you haven't provided me with any evidence that can back-up your strong assumptions, I'm afraid I cannot give them the support you so keenly seek on this and several other malaria platforms.

Also, I'm sure you understand that a quick google search will provide you with a range of images where two or more insects appear together on one flower, defying all logic. It is a strange world the one we live in. I have, nonetheless asked other more qualified scholars than google about this interesting fact and will, no doubt, obtain an answer soon enough.

I must finish by saying that I am still sitting on the fence with regards to your ideas and I will have to wait for evidence for or against them, while being deaf to all common sense that shouts at me to just stop minding...

Ricardo Ataíde

Submitted by Sanjay (not verified) on

Thanks Ricardo, you are welcome if you find the evidence, are capable of, e and intend to offer any help or creative contribution.