In a research letter published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, entomologists Willem Takken and Steve Lindsay say that the Anopheles stephensi species of mosquito has invaded the African continent. The species threatens previously safe urban areas with a severe threat of malaria outbreaks.
Though malaria has been eradicated in North America and southern Europe, it still claimed 405,000 lives in 2018. Ninety-four percent of these deaths occurred in Africa, most of them in rural areas where “progress in malaria control has stalled.”
Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes are native to southern and western Asia where they are considered the main cause of malaria infections in the urban areas of both Pakistan and India. However, the species invaded Sri Lanka around 2004, and has now invaded eastern Ethiopia.
Currently the species is only found in rural parts of Ethiopia, but Takken and Lindsay warn that, unlike other malaria transmitters in Africa, these mosquitoes are especially adept at establishing themselves in urban areas, “where they breed in manmade water containers, such as household water storage containers and garden reservoirs.”
If the species does manage to establish itself in a city, Takken and Lindsay say, “the region could face malaria outbreaks of unprecedented size.”
According to the two scientists, “urgent action” is required to prevent the spread of the species. “Once a species disperse and covers larger geographic areas, eradication becomes nearly impossible.”
A vaccine for malaria has been much sought for decades. But, as of 2020, there is only one that shows promise of reducing the risk of malaria in children. It is undergoing pilot trials in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya.
The Sweet William Foundation is committed to eradicating malaria in Africa through its ongoing cutting-edge research into new and more effective treatments. It also supports educational efforts to prevent malaria infections, especially in youth and pregnant women.
The compounds we have tested so far show up to 20% anti-malarial potency. If we can achieve another 10% potency increase, we will have discovered a compound powerful enough to successfully treat malaria.
Advances in anti-malarial compounds can also contribute to COVID-19 treatments—an avenue our researchers are vigorously pursuing.
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