Kenya must adopt holistic approach to combat malaria

Macro Photo of Yellow Fever, Malaria or Zika Virus Infected Mosquito Insect Bite on Green Background. [Getty Images]

As Kenyans joined the world in marking this year’s World Mosquito Day last month, we were reminded of the buzzing sound or flickering pain of getting bitten by insects, outdoors.

Mosquitoes exhibit distinctive characteristics. The type that causes malaria is known as Anopheles and transmits the disease by feeding on human blood and kills nearly 500,000 children in Africa.

This year, our attention is drawn to a new pressing issue — incursion of Anopheles stephensi, an Asian malaria mosquito, into the Horn of Africa. Its spread is not just an isolated biological concern but a clear reminder of the broader, multi-faceted challenges we face in the war against malaria.

The implications of the Anopheles stephensi spread extend beyond mere statistics. Unlike other species that predominantly target rural areas, this mosquito has shown a predilection for urban areas, signalling a potential intensification of malaria transmission in cities.  

This calls for scaling up of various interventions to eliminate malaria. Kenya has made progress in malaria control through multifaceted approaches, primarily prevention and treatment.

These interventions include distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets, malaria prevention and treatment in pregnancy, indoor residual spraying, and diagnosis and management of malaria cases.

Collaboration between local governments, community members, and public health organisations is often necessary for effective mosquito breeding site destruction.

A lot of focus has rightly been placed on mosquito breeding sites as a significant public concern since they contribute not just to the spread of diseases like malaria but others such as dengue, Zika virus and chikungunya.

Therefore, controlling mosquito populations is a crucial aspect. Our cities and towns must also enforce public health rules and regulations so that clogged sewer systems and uncollected rubbish heaps and debris do not facilitate breeding of mosquitoes.

One successful case study in controlling mosquitoes is the use of drone technology for larviciding, especially in areas with inaccessible large breeding sites. With support from SC Johnson and working with the National Malaria programme of the Ministry of Health, the End Malaria Council deployed drones in Busia County to kill larvae.

Currently, the most effective tool to stop the spread of Anopheles stephenesi is by spraying suspected breeding sites using larvicides. There are other recommended methods of destroying mosquito breeding sites.

They include eliminating stagnant water through emptying containers that can hold water such as buckets, flowerpots, and old tires, filling or draining low-lying areas where water may collect, cleaning clogged roof gutters and downspouts regularly, and properly maintaining swimming pools and covering them when not in use. 

Your role in this battle is not just as an observer but as an active stakeholder. Each of us has the power to contribute, to advocate, and drive action.

The writer is a special advisor at End Malaria Council Kenya