It’s World Mosquito Day - here’s what you need to know.
A quick history lesson.
On the 20th of August 1897, Sir Ronald Ross made a groundbreaking discovery – the parasite that carries malaria, p.falciparum, used mosquitos as a vector to spread themselves from creature to creature. Insects had often been on the suspect list, but the disease had been named for something else: bad air, or mala-aria in old Italian.
This discovery was a significant historical event for a whole host of reasons – not least because the disease has been around for yonks and may have even contributed to the fall of the Roman empire (it was often called Roman fever) – but more than anything it gave a sense of relief. By the time the 20th of August swung around 124 years ago, the malaria parasite (which has been around for well over 50,000 years!) had already been a thorn in the side of humankind, and in the next 100 years would go on to, “claim between 150 million and 300 million lives, [and] account for 2 to 5 percent of all deaths.”
Sir Ross’ discovery meant that the future had some hope, and that efforts to prevent mosquito-borne diseases like malaria could actually target the disease. At some point in the following years, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine commemorated the day, and World Mosquito Day has been kept on the calendar ever since to mark an important win in an ongoing fight against preventable diseases. Sir Ross was so pleased about it all, in fact, that he wrote a poem about his historic discovery.
This day relenting God |
Hath placed within my hand |
A wondrous thing; and God |
Be praised. At His command, |
Seeking His secret deeds |
With tears and toiling breath, |
I find thy cunning seeds, |
O million-murdering Death. |
I know this little thing |
A myriad men will save. |
O Death, where is thy sting? |
Thy victory, O Grave?
-Sir Ronald Ross
So, how far have we come in the fight against the million-murdering Death?
A long way, to be sure, but still not far enough. Even in 2021, close to half of the world’s entire population are at risk of catching a mosquito-borne disease. The unlucky few are better described as the unlucky many, with over 700 million people falling ill to one of the many preventable diseases that mosquitos carry around: malaria, dengue fever, and zika virus to name just a handful. Malaria alone leads to the deaths of 400,000 people each year, with most deaths occurring in, “children under the age of 5 years”.
Put in another way: 1 child dies from malaria every 2 minutes.
As if that isn’t perspective enough, 1 in every 12 child deaths each year from any cause (any cause!) is due to malaria.
Tackling a problem as big as mosquito-borne disease is not a simple one, but like any other problem the most important step is recognising that there is a problem and investigating a cause.
The world 124 years on from Sir Ronald’s discovery has a whole host of ways to tackle the dastardly mosquito: from indoor-residual sprays and insecticide-treated bednets, to preventive medications and vaccines. The future is promising for a sustainable solution to an age-old problem. More recently, scientists have sought to turn the tables, infecting mosquitos that would otherwise infect humans with a bacteria that makes them unable to pass on diseases.
There is more reason than ever before to hope that we can end malaria in our lifetime. And if we get it right, the generations to come will be able to sleep peacefully in the knowledge that no one will wake up with malaria.
The power of small choices.
This year, World Mosquito Day falls into a time of real chaos and resurgence: resurgence of Covid-19 in the form of the delta variant, resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and resurgence of the long-standing issues of humanitarian aid as Haiti is once again plunged into the aftermath of natural disaster. Everything around us demands our constant attention, and keeping up with so much of the bad that is happening can be exhausting.
That’s a realisation we had early on in our start-up story, and it’s a truth that sits at the core of our business model; there are hundreds of big issues happening around the world at any given moment, and our each and every day is full of hundreds of small choices: from the coffee we drink and the transport we use, to the media we engage with and the clothes we wear. But there is nothing to stop those choices from having more impact and more meaning. The mozzie-free tee was designed to be that sentiment in action - it means that putting on a t-shirt doesn’t just keep you safe from mozzies, it also keeps other people safe from a deadly disease.
In the past few weeks we made our first donation to NothingButNets. We’ll be posting about that soon enough, but we thought we’d take today to revisit the reason we’re here in the first place. 124 years after Sir Ross’ discovery we’re a whole lot closer to solving the malaria problem. In fact, since 2000, global efforts to give cheap, accessible, and effective interventions to at-risk populations has averted, “an estimated 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million malaria deaths”. We have so many people to thank for getting us this far in the right direction. The rest is up to us.
One thing we can learn from the mosquito on World Mosquito Day.
A world of people working together can make a world of difference. If you don’t believe us, then we recommend listening to someone far wiser!
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
— Dalai Lama XIV
There are a million ways to get started, but here are a few to choose from:
Head to the NothingButNets website and make a donation to help end malaria for good.
Check out the WHO’s 2020 World Malaria Report to get up to speed on the most important facts. The section called, ‘This year’s report at a glance’, is a great place to start!
Jump onto your socials and check out #worldmosquitoday to hear from the hundreds of scientists and advocates and champions fighting the good fight against mosquito-borne diseases!
Of course, we would also highly recommend a super-soft-organic-cotton-mosquito-repellent-t-shirt made by yours truly, but this isn’t a sale pitch, so we’ll save the spiel for another time!
Happy World Mosquito Day!