Knock, Knock Knock, Knock
Who’s there? Who’s there?
Amos who? Anna who?
A Mosquito Another Mosquito
Today is World Mosquito Day! 115 years ago, on 20th August, a british army doctor in Secundrabad, was spending his evenings cutting up mosquitos and peering into their stomachs through his microscope. Ronald Ross (who wanted to be a poet & playwright, but was pushed into medicine by his father) won the Nobel prize for Medicine in 1902. Of course, his work was influenced, guided and supported by a host of others, like Patrick Mason (his guru) & Laveran (who discovered the parasite), his ‘human trials’ ie, his servants, Abdul Kadir, Lutchman & Muhammed Bux . A century later, I doubt he’d have gotten away with sticking people into nets, and letting in mosquitoes to bite them. Or transporting infected mosquitoes from Italy to Britain. Ross’ discovery that malaria is transmitted by the female anopheles was a turning point in the fight against the disease.
He wrote this poem on the 22nd after his exciting 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?
Mal aria (or ‘bad air’ in Italian) has been described and talked about by ancient Chinese writing and Hippocrates and the Greeks. The Spanish Jesuit fathers in Peru found indigenous tribes treating their fevers with the bark of the Cinchona tree and so quinine, and subsequently cloroquine, were used as treatment, and now we, in India, have moved to ACT.
About 90% of malaria today is found in the African subcontinent. Of the remaining 10%, South-East Asia takes up a big chunk, made up mostly of India. In India, Odisha has had both the highest number of cases and malaria deaths for the last few decades. In Odisha, the KBK districts (Kalahandi, Balangir, Koraput – three big southern districts that have now been divided into 8 or 9 districts) are easily worst off. Bissamcuttack lies in the heart of this region.
On Mosquito Day, the MITRA-SDTT Malaria Resource Centre is abuzz with discussions on 4 important questions –
WHAT is malaria? HOW do you get it? WHAT do you do if you get it? HOW do you avoid getting it?
23 people from an NGO in Kondhamal sit in rapt attention, learning about the disease and the people’s movement against it! Apart from me and 2 others, everyone in the room has had malaria. More than once. GOI estimates there are a 1000 cases in India today. The WHO puts this figure at between 15-20,000 and MDS says 2 lakh cases is probably a more accurate figure. Either way, the problem is huge. Pregnant mothers, under-5’s and visitors are the most vulnerable groups and malaria deaths are still too many. Bissamcuttack (bissam or visham= poison and kota= fort) was a breeding pool of malaria and deaths. But these days, people with malaria flock here for the opposite – to get treatment and survive!
Odisha (like Africa) has beautiful forests, gently flowing streams, plenty of water and wildlife. Mosquitos included. The female anopheles transmits the malaria parasite (ring any bells from high school biology? Paramecium, Plasmodium). In India we have four – Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium falciparam, Plasmodium malari and Plasmodium ovale. Sounds like Captain Haddock came up with these names. I can see him hopping around with his beard on fire, shouting loudly! In our part of Odisha, we have mostly falciparum and therefore deaths. Treatment is all very well, but ideally, prevention is better than cure. So treated nets, neem oil, indoor netting and anything to keep mosquitos away from sun-down to sun-up are being used. The Kondhamal group is working on their planned mal-mal strategy now and I’m rambling but you’ll definitely hear more about Mosquitoes, Malaria, Malnutrition and more at Mitra!
So at the end of Mosquito day – Goodnight! Don’t let the mosquitoes bite!