WHO puts focus on vector-borne diseases

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They’re small, but their bite can be fatal.

Mosquitoes, ticks, mites, fleas and sand flies pose great threat to health, that is why the World Health Organization (WHO) will focus on these “vectors” or carriers of diseases when it celebrates World Health Day on April 7.

In a statement on Friday, WHO explained that these carriers transmit dangerous parasites, viruses or bacteria from one infected animal or person to another, causing serious diseases in humans. Malaria, dengue, chikungunya, lymphatic filiariasis and schistosomiasis are several of the so-called vector-borne diseases.

WHO added that “one-sixth of the illness and disability suffered worldwide is due to vector-borne diseases, with more than half the world’s population currently estimated to be at risk.”


The international health group stressed that diseases carried by mosquitoes, including malaria and dengue, impose the greatest threat to global health.

“Malaria remains the vector-borne disease with the highest death toll in humans, estimated to have caused about 207 million infections globally in 2012 and to have claimed 627 000 lives,” the organization said.

WHO data showed an estimated 500,000 people with severe dengue worldwide, many of them children, require hospitalization each year.

“The Asia-Pacific region reports about 75% of the global dengue burden,” WHO said.

The Department of Health (DOH) recorded 13,188 cases from January 1 to March 15 this year, 52.18 percent lower than the cases recorded in the same period in 2013. Dengue-caused deaths from January to March 15 this year also went down to 47, significantly lower than the 110 deaths during the same period last year.

The DOH also recorded 59 malaria cases but no death from January to March 15 this year, with most of the cases coming from Region IV-B, or the provinces of Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan.

The DOH and other government agencies like the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) previously organized cleanup drives and waterway dredging operations in some cities in Metro Manila, particularly in Manila, Pasig, Valenzuela, Malabon and Quezon City, where residents complained of mosquito swarms in their communities.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) identified these mosquitoes to be Culex quinquefasciatus or the common household mosquito, which has no ability to carry any disease.

However, the DOH continues to encourage communities to maintain a clean environment to prevent the increase of mosquito larvae.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona earlier said the country may be “malaria-free” by 2020.

‘Small bite, big threat’

The WHO said vector-borne diseases are commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

“The spread of these diseases is determined by a complex combination of social, economic and environmental factors, including the impact of globalization on travel and trade, haphazard urbanization, a lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and environmental challenges including climate change,” it said.

Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO director for the Western Pacific region, appealed for “national, regional and global political commitment, resources and multi-sectoral collaboration” to fight vector-borne diseases.

“This year’s World Health Day theme of Small bite, Big threat is a timely reminder that vector-borne diseases affect billions of people globally, including millions in all 37 countries and areas in our Region,” Shin said.

The WHO said it will “encourage research and development efforts regarding prevention tools and medication…[and]provide technical advice and expertise to health officials not only to shape these strategies and action plans, but also to guide their implementation.”

“Protection from bugs and bites is key: repellents, bed nets treated with insecticides and window screens can all help, as they can make sure there’s no standing water in or around the home,” the WHO added.

“Anti-malarial drug resistance – especially artemisinin resistance – and insecticide resistance remain a major concern,” the group added. “Reaching marginalized communities and ensuring universal access to prevention and treatment of vector-borne diseases are a formidable task.”

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