The buzzing of a single mosquito is enough to break a good night’s sleep.
So imagine when that same sound is multiplied a hundred times – it can at best be described as eerie.
Especially when these mosquitoes are in a white mesh cage, in a vacuum-sealed laboratory, and it’s around feeding time.
It is at this opportune moment that Lizette Koekemoer, dressed in a red jersey and white lab coat, sticks her hand into the cage.
While most would squirm at the thought of dozens of mosquitoes making a blood meal of your arm, Koekemoer hardly seems to notice. For her, feeding mosquitoes is as normal as breathing; she has done it so many times she no longer gets itchy from the bites.
“When you are working on them, you learn to appreciate them as a living organism. When you put a mosquito under a microscope, they are actually beautiful. I think people laugh when I tell them I work on mosquitoes and I get paid for it,” says Koekemoer.
For 23 years, Koekemoer has been at the forefront researching these insects across Africa. She is part of the Malaria Entomology Research Unit on the 10th floor of the Faculty of Health Sciences building at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Koekemoer’s passion goes beyond the laboratory to barbeques where she gets excited to tell you what species you’ve just squashed on your leg, having been bitten more times than most she would know.
The reason we are here today, in this sealed laboratory with Koekemoer’s arm in a cage and mosquitoes sucking her dry, is to talk about a mosquito called Anopheles vaneedeni, discovered by her team on the Makhathini Flats, in northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
“Anopheles vaneedeni has been known about since 1977, it has never – before now – been identified as a malaria-carrying vector in nature,” says Koekemoer.
Up until now it was thought two other mosquitoes, called anopheles arabiensis and anopheles funestus, were the main vectors of malaria transmission. Vectors are living organisms that can transmit infectious diseases between humans or from animals to humans.
It is not just a new carrier species that has Koekemoer worried. On the rise are mosquitoes with an increased resistance to insecticides.
According to the scientist, conventional insecticide-based mosquito control methods, such as bed nets and repellents are now becoming redundant.
“A mosquito’s whole body is designed to keep it alive. If you have one female that has formed a resistance, when she lays eggs, you then have gene resistance going all over the place. You need to monitor this and then move on to a new insecticide to kill those ones.”
While these methods may have proven to be effective tackling funestus, which prefers to feed on humans indoors, it means arabiensis and now vaneedeni can never be completely eradicated. This is because both arabiensis and vaneedeni snack on people outdoors.
“All malaria species are active from dusk to dawn. That’s their peak period. As soon as the sun goes down, they start feeding. People socialize at night, when it’s warm. They don’t go to bed. Bed nets only protect you when you are sleeping. They don’t protect you when you are outside cooking and socializing,” says Koekemoer.
Sterilized males to combat malaria
Back in the lab, it is Koekemoer’s job to come up with ways of controlling malaria vectors. One of the team’s more radical solutions is sterilizing males with radiation.
“We’ve got a gamma radiator. So it’s fast and quick – 60 seconds. We put the pupae in a radiation chamber, put them on a jig and then one minute later, they are sterilized.”
Called the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), Koekemoer wants to build a rearing facility that will pump out 50,000 sterilized males per week. Once nuked, these sterile males are reared and released into the wild to mate with wild females.
“At a small scale, it works really well. The key to this research is female mosquitoes mate only once in their lifetime and if the male is sterile, she will not produce viable eggs. It’s like birth control… In the lab we have up to 96% reduction in progeny,” says Koekemoer.
It has taken seven years of research to get to this point. Once built, Koekemoer estimates they would need R1.5 million ($113,000) to R2 million ($150,000) per year for SIT to run successfully.
“The thing to remember is a lot of research is done in colonized mosquitoes, in a controlled environment in a lab set-up. It’s difficult when you take this into the field, when your situation is a lot more complex and there is more than one species of mosquito,” says Koekemoer.
SIT was first used to control screwworm fly in America in the 1950s.
“It hasn’t been done with malaria, because malaria is complicated. Countries that are affected by malaria are also often not politically stable and financial resources are limited,” says Koekemoer.
The threat of new species?
Although vaneedeni’s emergence is worrying, it’s not yet time to panic.
“To put it into perspective, we collected a large number of species. So percentage wise, it’s not high. Out of the 3,000 we have collected, we had one KZN sample that was infected,” says Koekemoer.
Vaneedeni is also considered a minor vector because the mosquito prefers to feed on livestock rather than humans.
The question the team are trying to answer is why now? One theory they have is because of the changing environment in KZN. At the time the team found the mosquito, the area was drought-stricken.
“We need to look at the bigger picture of the environmental impact. Was it a once-off because it was so dry? That’s what we need to determine. Your environmental factors influence everything. Because there was drought, the impact on the number of cattle available, or the availability of water might have diminished, which is their preferred host and sites. If you are the only blood source, then the mosquito has no choice but to come to you and you could get affected,” says Koekemoer.
The field site is naturally isolated, between a mountain range and the ocean, in the Mamfene district 60kms from Sodwana and close to the town of Ndumu. A team member collects mosquitoes twice a week throughout the year. The mosquitoes fly into clay pot traps and are then catalogued by species.
“The fact that we now know about vaneedeni means we can target our research towards knowing more about this vector’s behavior,” says Koekemoer.
Until effective controls for outdoor mosquitoes are developed, eliminating local malaria transmission in southern Africa will be extremely difficult.
“Thanks to other malaria control measures, the number of cases is down to around 9,000 per year from over 60,000 in 2000, but it has proven hard to bring the insect population – and infection rates – down any further using the traditional method of indoor residual spraying,” says Koekemoer.
“There are countries that have resistance to all the classes of insecticides. There are only four classes approved by the World Health Organization for mosquitoes. In some countries, there is resistance to all four classes. It highlights the need to invest and start looking into alternative control methods.”
Coming up with new methods is a race to diffuse a ticking time bomb.
“These genes will eventually move into our borders whether it is the mosquito or the parasite, it’s only a matter of time, it will come into South Africa. You need to be one step ahead. If something happens, what’s Plan B? ”
Thanks to a buzzing mosquito in a pot and a little radiation therapy, scientists are a step closer to solving the malaria malaise. Until then, it’s sleepless nights for them.
Facts About Malaria
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
According to the latest WHO estimates, released in December 2016, there were 212 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 429,000 deaths.
The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 90% of malaria cases and 92% of malaria deaths.
In 2015, 91 countries and areas had ongoing malaria transmission.
Between 2010 and 2015, malaria incidence among populations at risk (the rate of new cases) fell by 21% globally. In that same period, malaria mortality rates among populations at risk fell by 29% globally among all age groups, and by 35% among children under 5.
Vector-borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than one million deaths annually.
NO WOMAN SHOULD EVER DIE GIVING LIFE
By –Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi and Siddharth Chatterjee
Consider this. 24 women, children and babies were murdered at a hospital in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Even by standards of a country as accustomed to bloodshed as Afghanistan, the May 12 attack on a Kabul maternity clinic was an event of unmitigated horror.
That anyone could target women at their most vulnerable and infants in their first hours of life defies belief and makes one despair of the world that welcomed little Amina. Born just two hours before the attack that killed her mother, Amina’s leg was shattered by a bullet.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Any attack on innocents is unforgivable, but to attack infants and women in labour… is an act of sheer evil”.
The incident throws into relief the need to protect vulnerable populations even as the world struggles with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health workers operating in difficult circumstances, such as the heroic Dr Najibullah Bina who led the team that conducted the first surgery on little Amina’s leg, continue to expose themselves and their families to the virus as well as to terror attacks.
The pandemic has an alarming potential to reverse hard-won socioeconomic gains inspired the March 2020 appeal by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for an immediate global ceasefire, which asked all warring parties to silence their guns to facilitate the delivery of aid and open up space for diplomacy.
Women generally are at specific risk and disadvantage in Afghanistan, largely for reasons of culture. Their lives, quite separately from their deaths, are constrained in many ways that affect their health, education, nutrition and well-being. One of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth, Afghanistan is a microcosm of vulnerability for women and children, with a maternal mortality rate of around 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and around two physicians for every 10,000 people.
Afghanistan must figure out how to best support women and children when health efforts are under threat by both terrorists and a dangerous virus.
Around the globe, COVID-19 is worsening the situation for women already at risk, such as those in abusive relationships. Many millions are now required by emergency regulations to remain at home with their abusers, removed from the gaze of those who might otherwise see them and offer help.
And with one in every three women globally experiencing physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, the issue is startlingly grave.
UNFPA, the UN’s Population Fund, says the COVID-19 lockdown is disproportionately affecting women and children. It is resulting in millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and unintended pregnancy. “The new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director.
Their well-being and economic resilience are threatened not only by the lockdown itself, but also by scaling down of health services and support such as hotlines, crisis centres, shelters, legal aid, protection, and counselling services.
The horror in Afghanistan further illustrates the urgency of the UN Secretary General’s clarion call for the peace-humanitarian action-development nexus to deal with conflicts, violent extremism, and other forms of instability. Now more than ever, there is a need for approaches that address social, economic, and political drivers of radicalisation.
There will be no one-size-fits-all model, and each country must continually assess which members of society are at the highest risk. If vulnerable groups are not properly identified and suitable responses developed, the consequences of this pandemic may be more devastating than we have dared to imagine.
Humanity has often been guilty of detachment regarding the plight of vulnerable populations. The COVID-19 threat is an opportunity to change course. While the virus does not discriminate, we must be careful lest our responses to it end up further entrenching current inequalities.
Images of two-hour-old Amina, swaddled in a blood-drenched blanket and with a bullet in her tiny bones must exponentially rouse our collective humanity and question the normalisation of indifference to the most vulnerable.
About the Authors
Sheikha Hend Al Qassimi, a multifaceted Emarati Princess, is an accomplished editor and writer, successful entrepreneur and architect and a committed philanthropist. She has a Masters in Marketing, Management & Communications from the Paris Sorbonne University. A Bachelor of Arts and Design with a double major (Architecture and Design Management) from the American University of Sharjah. Follow her on twitter- @LadyVelvet_HFQ
Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. He has served in various parts of the world with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNOPS, UN Peacekeeping and the Red Cross Movement. A decorated Special Forces veteran, he is an alumnus of Princeton University. Follow him on twitter-@sidchat1
[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa
While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.
The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed four million with the current figure being at 5,530,201.
The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.
The death toll has risen globally to a whopping 347,192.
The U.S. leads with 97,377 deaths. The U.K is second with 36,393. Italy is third with 32,616. Spain is fourth with 28,628, and France is fifth with 28,289.
China, where the virus originated from, maintains that its death toll is at 4,634.
The figure of the global recoveries stands at 2,318,705.
The African continent has 114,749 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 3,389. The continent has made 46,365 recoveries.
Here are the numbers in Africa:
|Country||Confirmed Cases||Confirmed Deaths||Confirmed Recoveries|
|Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)||362||3||95|
|Central African Republic (CAR)||479||18|
|Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)||2,301||29||1,100|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)||1,945||63||312|
|Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)||225||2||119|
|Sao Tome and Principe||251||8||4|
Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.
Beyoncé And Tina Knowles-Lawson Are Accelerating Coronavirus Testing In Underserved Communities—And Challenging Other Celebrities To Do The Same
Last weekend, close to 1,000 residents flocked to two middle schools in predominantly black Houston communities, waiting patiently in their cars to receive free COVID-19 testing.
Unlike many other cities nationwide, Houston has had free testing available to the public but “some people, definitely minorities because we are overlooked, just aren’t aware or aren’t taking it seriously,” Tina Knowles-Lawson, a Houston native herself, tells Forbes.
That lack of awareness in the community inspired Knowles-Lawson to create the #IDIDMYPART campaign. Launched in partnership with daughter Beyoncé and her BeyGOOD initiative, the campaign encourages black and brown residents—the demographic that’s dying at a faster rate than any other in the state—to seek free COVID-19 testing. The campaign ran two testing locations on May 8 and 9, 2020, with plans to recruit celebrities in other cities to continue the initiative in the weeks and months to come.
“It’s associated with Beyoncé, in some way, so it’s a cool thing, you know?” says Knowles-Lawson. “And it’s working, because people are still going to testing sites.”
The testing locations kept that cool factor in mind. As volunteer medical professionals from the United Memorial Medical Center administered tests (the hospital is following up with each individual attendee), DJs spun the latest hits from Beyoncé and other artists. And on their way out, attendees were given vouchers to two of Houston’s most popular restaurants: Frenchy’s and Burns Original BBQ. “You didn’t have to get in your head about the test; it wasn’t so sterile,” says Knowles-Lawson. “It was almost like a celebration of getting tested. We wanted to take away the stigma.”
Knowles-Lawson also wanted to stress health and wellness more holistically, so other products including vitamins, grooming supplies, toilet paper, gloves and masks were also handed out, thanks in part to the campaign’s partners including Procter & Gamble, Matthew 25 Ministries, supermarket chain H-E-B and TWC Logistics Trucking.
“People are getting upset when they see people with no mask on, but a lot of people just don’t have them,” says Knowles-Lawson.
That the campaign took place on Mother’s Day weekend was just a coincidence, but was still a fitting time for the mother-daughter collaboration to launch. Knowles-Lawson, who grew up impoverished in Galveston, Texas, has always sought to instill the give-back mentality in her daughters, Beyoncé and Solange. “It was five kids at home, and my sister had eight children, and they were always at our house—our little two-bedroom house,” recounts Knowles-Lawson, with a laugh. “But my mom could stretch a piece of steak. She just shared all the time. I never forgot that.” Once they were old enough, Beyoncé and Solange were continuing the family’s acts of service, spending their Sundays feeding Texas’ homeless community after church.
Beyoncé’s also teamed up with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to donate $6 million in support of mental health and wellness organizations in Houston, New York, New Orleans and Detroit.
And the #IDIDMYPART campaign isn’t limited to Houston. It’s challenging other celebrities to continue the initiative in other cities nationwide. Several have already answered the call. Tyler Perry has vowed to implement the initiative in Atlanta, Octavia Spencer aims to set up sites across Mississippi, and Cookie and Magic Johnson will lead the charge in Detroit.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see people use their platforms to get this information out,” says Knowles-Lawson. “People are getting testing who wouldn’t otherwise. We can keep the momentum going.”
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