QING Ming frequently coincides with the start of the rainy season and while we Malaysians often complain about the hot weather, we also dread the traffic jams caused by flooding due to the incessant rain.
But the rains bring forth an even deadlier enemy – the female Aedes mosquito, the primary vector for transmitting dangerous diseases like Zika, dengue fever, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Mosquitoes can breed in very little water. Even discarded bottle caps, soda cans and cups can provide enough water for them to breed in.
Dengue fever is not only one of the world’s deadliest mosquito-borne diseases but it is also one of the most widespread. These days, it is not uncommon to hear of someone we know coming down with dengue.
In Selangor alone, a whopping 51,652 dengue cases were recorded throughout 2016, of which 78 patients died.
Many still die from dengue fever as there is no known cure for this deadly disease yet.
With Malaysia’s tropical climate providing ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes, we have much to do to reduce mosquito-borne diseases in humans.
In 2010, the controversial release of genetically-modified (GM) male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Bentong (Pahang) and Alor Gajah (Malacca) to reduce the population of mosquitoes drew flak from the public. The trial project was heavily criticised as Malaysia was only the second country in the world to release these GM mosquitoes into the wild. The first was the Cayman Islands in 2009.
We do not know for sure if the experiment worked but Malaysia documented record levels of dengue cases in 2015 and 2016. So if efforts to engineer and experiment with nature did not work, does it make sense to attempt another round of this experiment?
The Health Ministry recently announced another pilot project to release mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia micro-organism in an identified area in Selangor to see its impact on reducing dengue cases as well as to understand the “behaviour” of the disease-transmitting mosquito species.
Recently, the Health Ministry also conditionally approved the world’s first dengue vaccine for use in Malaysia although it was stated that earlier data on vaccination had shown adverse effects on those who never had dengue before.
One such side effect was the development of severe dengue, also known as dengue shock syndrome, in some patients. Why then are we approving experiments on our fellow human beings? Have we not learned not to play God?
As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure but as far as the attitude of Malaysians go, education on how to curb the breeding of mosquitoes is still lacking. We must encourage and equip individuals, especially families, to take precautionary steps as most breeding sites are found indoors and near residential areas.
One organisation that has been particularly successful in cultivating the right habits by educating the community on how to implement preventive steps is the Najib Razak Club (NRC11).
In collaboration with the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI), the organisation has conducted gotong royong and equipped residents in 21 dengue hotspots around the country with the Mosquito Control System (MCS) also known as the Kit Bebas Denggi.
A simple but effective and sustainable method, the MCS aims to eliminate mosquitoes in their larval stage using a non-toxic bio-larvicide called Mousticide. This bio-larvicide is sprinkled into an Aedes larvae ovitrap (Alot) filled with water to attract mosquitoes.
The bio-larvicide stops protein digestion in mosquito larvae, causing metabolic starvation and death.
NRC11 distributed the kit, which consists of one Alot, 30g Mousticide, 500ml denguard dengue defence lotion, books and a CD containing information about dengue fever and Aedes mosquitoes. The programme has proven to be successful and it was reported that dengue fever cases in the communities given the kits were significantly reduced.
Malaysians have reason to be concerned as Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam had in February warned Malaysians to brace for a possible spike in the number of dengue cases around July and August.
Even as we come up with various methods to fight the dengue menace, we also cannot neglect the need to cultivate the right habits and attitude to reduce the incidence of dengue in selected hotspot areas.
One thing is for sure – prevention is always better than cure, and killing mosquitoes at the larval stage has proven to be effective. When the breeding stops, deaths from dengue can too.