• Time to read 1 minute


August 20, 2017

A commentary by Dr. Michael Macdonald stresses how the world focus is now shifting towards the study of the Aedes vectors.


Prof. John Beier

University of Miami



August 20, is World Mosquito Day, marking the day in 1897 that a British Medical Officer in India, Ronald Ross, changed the course of history with the discovery of the malaria parasite in the “dapple-winged” mosquito.  The following day he drafted a poem that included the lines

O million-murdering Death.
I know this little thing
A myriad men will save

This “little thing a myriad men will save” indeed.  Our understanding of the mosquito vector and her role in transmitting malaria and yellow fever, and now of growing global importance, dengue, Zika and chikungunya has transformed our world.  

We seem to be winning some battles but struggle with others.  Malaria remains a crushing burden in many communities with an estimated 212 million cases worldwide in 2015, but this represents a 21% decrease in incidence and 29% decrease in mortality since 2010. Our struggles with Aedes, vectors of Yellow Fever, Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika present a more troubling picture. Through globalization, urbanization and climate change, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus continue to proliferate almost unchecked.  More than 2.5 billion people, 40% of the world’s population across 100 countries, live in areas where there is a risk of Aedes-borne viruses.  As the former WHO Director General Margret Chan famously told the 2016 World Health Assembly “Above all, the spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue, and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s”.  

Clearly, 120 years since Sir Ronald incriminated the mosquito and penned these lines, we need to step up.  WHO and partners are renewing efforts to build capacities and respond to these mosquito-borne threats through a broad multi-sectoral ‘Global Vector Control Response’ launched in June this year Complementing the work of WHO are growing networks of national programs, institutions and partners through the Roll Back Malaria Vector Control Working Group, the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network and the Pan African Mosquito Control Association.  

As we think of that warm and humid August afternoon in India, remember the mosquito and the “million murdering death”. We’ve learned a lot and have made progress against Anopheles, but Aedes continue to challenge.  It will be through these partnerships and networks, through the growing cadre of a new generation of public health entomologists in the Americas, Africa and Asia that we can realize the full benefit of “this little thing” Sir Ronald discovered 120 years ago.

By Michael Macdonald