An undergraduate class was asked, ‘What can cause death to human beings’? The answers varied from accidents, diseases, and attacks of snakes, tigers, lions, crocodiles, elephants, and humans for almost the entire class. But a seemingly reluctant, less-confident student for the last bench asked, ‘Sir, cannot this be a mosquito?’ Yes, the quick yet critical survey on that undergraduate class depicts how seriously the country has considered mosquitos detrimental to human lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this tiny insect causes the death of people between 750,000 and more than one million people every year around the world. The Statista’s data shows that mosquito was the deadliest insect for human beings in 2022 as it killed 1000,000 people in different parts of the world, followed by snakes (100,000) and dogs (30,000). The responses of Gen-Z were no surprise. Unfortunately, our policymakers, political leaderships, civil society members, and even mass media are not paying necessary attention to the severity of the dengue problem caused by the tiny mosquito.
We need a holistic, integrated, culture-specific public health communication approach. In this approach, we need to consider local knowledge and the behaviour of people, the behaviour of mosquitoes and their management
Mosquitoes do not kill humans directly; they spread deadly diseases like Dengue, malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus and Zika virus through their bites. The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) data shows 5,551 people were hospitalized, and 93 died in 2000. As of 7 August this year, the number of cases of dengue-affected people has risen astronomically to 69,483, causing the death of 327 people. Still, the numbers fail to portray the severity of the issue. For example, Dengue was popularly known as a ‘Dhaka Disease’ around 10 years ago. But it has been spreading nationwide for the last few years, which needs immediate action. Yet all the initiatives and activities of the government, and also media portrayal, indicate Bangladesh is trying to deal with a health problem only, whereas the prevention of dengue needs extensive community engagement.
There's a common term in Bangla, “mosha marte kaman daga,” roughly translated as ‘using a cannon to kill a mosquito’, implying the use of excessive force for a trivial task. The killing of mosquitoes is not a trivial task any longer. The authors argue that our existing cannons -- chemical and clinical approaches -- are inadequate to fight against mosquitoes and dengue in the country.
Instead, we need a holistic, integrated, culture-specific public health communication approach. In this approach, we need to consider local knowledge and the behaviour of people, the behaviour of mosquitoes and their management. Instead of spreading fumes and chemicals to fight mosquitos, we must enhance public engagement, political commitment and responsible media participation. Otherwise, the mosquito would bring severe consequences which are beyond our imagination.
An observation indicates that the behaviour of mosquitoes is changing rapidly. There might be a link to the behavioural change of mosquitoes and their population, food availability, rainfall, and temperature on the earth. It is high time to encourage our scientists to decipher the behaviour of mosquitos and complete their genome sequencing to find an impactful solution. The government should allocate necessary resources to promote research on mosquitoes and dengue, forecasting climate change, rainfall, and temperature changes.
Local government bodies need to be activated to work closely with rural communities. Local political leaders should work with the people at the thana and ward levels. In this case, a reward and punishment system can be introduced for the best ward each month for cleanliness and fight against mosquitoes. The health ministry and drug administration must take the initiative to ensure the availability of necessary drugs and chemicals.
Pharmaceutical industries also have an essential role to play. They should spend their funds from corporate social responsibilities to raise awareness about fighting mosquitoes and dengue. The government should change the country’s vaccine policy to incorporate vaccination for dengue fever in the national Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) program.
The country’s mass media should work on raising awareness of cleanliness and civic responsibility through news and other content, reducing the risks of dengue instead of merely giving coverage of the number of dengue cases, incidents of deaths and events on spreading chemicals and cleaning activities by a public official.
Last but not least, preventative measures, not cure, can save the country from the upcoming detrimental waves of dengue. Immediate steps need to be taken: if not now, then when?
* Mohammad Aminul Islam is Senior Lecturer, Department of Media Studies and Journalism, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh and Mahfuz Mishu is Special Correspondent, Jamuna Television; and part-time faculty Department of Media Studies and Journalism, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh