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Nigeria, others at risk of Steve mosquitoes

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By Usman Oladimeji

Steve mosquitoes have spread to seven African countries, including Nigeria.

The discovery of a new mosquito species, called Steve (Anopheles stephensi in scientific terms), has put Nigeria and various other African nations in jeopardy of confronting a rise in Malaria cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the presence of the Steve mosquito was initially detected in Djibouti in 2012, despite its origins in South Asia. Ever since its initial discovery, the mosquito has spread far and wide, extending its reach to encompass seven African nations including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Concerns have been raised about the peculiar attributes of the Steve mosquito, which sets it apart from other mosquitos that typically reside in rivers and marshes. This urban breeder prefers dry habitats, making it distinct. Its resilience to commonly used insecticides, ability to survive in low-moisture conditions, and its propensity to breed on water trapped in gutters, tyres, and other containers poses significant challenges when it comes to control measures. This species displays peculiar traits, such as biting during daylight hours. Dr. Dorothy Achu, the head of tropical diseases in Africa at WHO, highlighted the urban menace brought about by Steve and raised doubts about the effectiveness of existing measures that predominantly concentrate on indoor treatments.

Healthcare specialists are urgently seeking innovative remedies.

According to her, finding and eliminating the mosquito proved to be a major challenge, hindering attempts to curb its detrimental effects on Public Health. In the face of the expanding reach of the Steve mosquito, healthcare specialists are urgently seeking innovative remedies to confront this emerging menace to malaria control in Africa. Numerous nations in Africa persistently engage in all-encompassing initiatives aimed at eradicating malaria. These programs incorporate an array of preventive measures, diagnostic techniques, and therapeutic interventions.

This new mosquito species have a remarkable ability to spread malaria to humans and thrive particularly in urban areas, unlike other carriers of the disease in Africa. Back in 2012, when Anopheles Stephensi was discovered in Africa, Djibouti had 27 suspected or confirmed malaria cases and appeared to be making significant progress towards eradicating the illness. However, fast forward to 2020, the nation’s burden of malaria skyrocketed to over 73,000 cases. The distressing news persists as the invasive mosquito proceeds to expand its reach, infiltrating various nations across the African continent. Instances of its presence were recorded in Ethiopia and Sudan in 2016, followed by Somalia in 2019, and Nigeria in 2020.

Traditional antimalarial measures do not work against this species.

Dr. Delenasaw Yewhalaw, an entomologist from Jimma University in Ethiopia, points out that Anopheles stephensi poses a unique challenge in the fight against malaria. This is because the traditional anti-malaria measures that were previously effective against other vectors do not work against this particular mosquito species. Its resting and feeding traits differ significantly from other mosquitoes, exacerbating the situation. He said this type of species demonstrates a disturbing resistance towards most insecticides, rendering conventional intervention tools like indoor residual spraying or long-lasting insecticidal nets ineffective or possibly futile in managing this species.

Africa’s endeavors to control and eradicate malaria face a considerable menace from this species, which has the potential to thwart their progress. If this species were to continue spreading unabated, it may expose an additional 126 million individuals to the disease, according to a study. However, there remains a pressing need for extensive research to comprehend the movement patterns of An. stephensi throughout Africa, including its timing, locations, and methods of transmission. Kenya’s Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) was the first to detect the presence of the malaria species in the country during a routine surveillance.

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Researchers at KEMRI were deeply concerned about the presence of the mosquito species in their nation, emphasizing that the spread of malaria might persist throughout the year rather than being limited to specific seasons. This is because the mosquitoes possess an incredible agility to rapidly spread their reach to new areas, unaffected by the prevailing climate and environmental factors. According to Dr. Eric Ochomo, the lead researcher of the project and an entomologist at the KEMRI, Kisumu, an analysis of numerous samples collected in Africa revealed a strong resemblance to the genetic makeup of mosquitoes found in Asia, suggesting that these mosquito are likely spread through ships traveling from Asia to Africa.


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