KENYA – The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new initiative aimed at eliminating malaria within the African continent where the disease hits hardest.
The move follows a 2019 vector alert where WHO identified the spread of Anopheles stephensi as a significant threat to malaria control and elimination particularly in Africa.
The health organization announced in an official statement that the WHO’s new initiative aims to support an effective regional response to An. stephensi on the African continent through a five-pronged approach.
The critical approaches include increasing collaboration across sectors and border as well as strengthening surveillance to determine the extent of the spread of the malaria vector and its role in transmission.
WHO pointed out that improving information exchange on the presence of An. stephensi and on efforts to control it will help to stop the further spread of the invasive mosquito species in the region.
Originally native to parts of South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, the malaria vector has been expanding its range over the last decade, with detections reported in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.
“Developing guidance for national malaria control programmes on appropriate ways to respond to the proven vector of malaria, prioritizing research to evaluate the impact of interventions and tools against An. Stephensi together with integrated action is key to success,” the agency said.
The agency explained that where feasible, national responses to An. stephensi should be integrated with efforts to control malaria and other vector-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya.
“Integrated action will be key to success against Anopheles stephensi and other vector-borne diseases. Shifting our focus to integrated and locally adapted vector control can save both money and lives,” noted Dr Ebenezer Baba, malaria advisor for the WHO African Region.
According to the health organization, the WHO Global vector control response (2017–2030) provides a framework for investigating and implementing such integration.
WHO further highlighted that unlike the other main mosquito vectors of malaria in Africa, the Anopheles stephensi thrives in urban settings.
“With more than 40% of the population in Africa living in urban environments, the invasion and spread of An. stephensi could pose a significant threat to the control and elimination of malaria in the region,” the agency cautioned.
The agency further said that large-scale surveillance of the invasive mosquito species is still in its infancy thus more research and data are urgently needed.
“We are still learning about the presence of Anopheles stephensi and its role in malaria transmission in Africa,” said Dr. Jan Kolaczinski, who leads the Vector Control and Insecticide Resistance unit with the WHO Global Malaria Programme.
Dr. Kolaczinski stressed that public health experts and scientists still don’t know how far the mosquito species has already spread, and how much of a problem it is or could be.
“We are still learning about the presence of Anopheles stephensi and its role in malaria transmission in Africa,” he added.
Meanwhile, the WHO Malaria Threats Map features a dedicated section on invasive vectors, including An. stephensi
“All confirmed reports of the presence of An. stephensi should be reported to WHO to allow an open sharing of data and an up-to-date understanding of its distribution and spread,” the agency said.
WHO further said that the knowledge will ultimately provide a basis to assess the effectiveness of any efforts to control or eliminate the invasive malaria vector.
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