June 20th, 2008
09:18 AM ET

Mosquito warfare

By Amy Burkholder
CNN Medical Producer

Boats work the Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition Photo courtesy Helge Bendl/www.zambezi-expedition.org

Her system primed with the anti-malaria drug Malarone and her body misted in repellant, Emily Bergantino recalls walking to a remote African village across an empty riverbed littered with pools of stagnant water. "Here I was, in a breeding ground – mosquitos were buzzing around everywhere – it was a malarial mosquito paradise."

And, she recalls the surprise she got when entering the village, one of many scattered along the Zambezi River.

"The villagers greeted us – it was very impromptu – with a skit and musical – acting out how a mosquito bites you, how you get chills –and fever- they pulled me in, pretending to bite me, " she laughs. The skit continued with the malaria workers hanging a bednet from a nearby tree, miming to villagers how, if you simply sleep under the net, it could save your life. And they got it. “These people don't need us to go in every night, they only need the tools, the knowledge – they have the drive to prevent it,” she muses.

Bergantino, who works for “Malaria No More”  an organization that just back from the "Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition,”  a two-month mission down the Zambezi River to deliver bed nets and medications to remote river communities along the Zambezi River, including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Another goal, promoting cross-border collaboration to control a highly preventable mosquito-disease that kills over one million people every year, most of them children and pregnant women. 3,000 children die each day of malaria – each death, so easily spared by a $10 bednet, or a $2 drug treatment – but out of reach for people who typically live on less than a dollar a day.

Organizations such as Bergantino's employer Malaria No More, the Global Fund, World Bank, United Nations Foundation and Gates Foundation all understand malaria's toll – and are making prevention priority one. But the uncertain news – will malaria re-emerge in new areas, as the global climate changes?

The World Health Organization acknowledges an important link between a warmer world and mosquito diseases - malaria in Africa- Dengue in Rio – West Nile in New York – and the CDC tells CNN if temperatures increase by just 3-4 degrees, we will see a very different distribution vector disease worldwide. Imagine malaria at your backdoor – it could happen, experts say. Malaria was endemic in the United States prior to the 1940s and it was in fact controlling malaria that led to the formation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After seeing a 3-year-old child crying in her father's arms, burning with malarial fever – for Bergantino, the war on the mosquito became very personal – and in a way, frustrating because she sees it as a such a simple, solvable equation.

"We can get lost in this broad concept of global health – but it's as simple as a single mosquito biting a child, and that child dying. One bednet protects a child. If the tool is available, a family stays intact."

If you're a soldier in the mosquito war, and have your own innovative solutions – we'd love to hear from you.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Vaishali Patel

    I'm traveling to Botswana next week and though I've heard anti-malarial drugs are a must when traveling to Africa, I'm reluctant to take them; are there any other options or steps I can take to protect myself while I'm there? I will be camping and working outdoors but at night we'll be sleeping under bed nets– is this enough? Also, I'm wondering if there's anything I can do while I'm in the country (even though I'm not working on malaria) to help.

    June 23, 2008 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Anna Osler

    This sounds like a great cause to become involved with. How could I, as a college student, use the resources of my university to raise awareness and funds for malaria prevention?

    June 23, 2008 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mim


    If you've not had malaria before, do whatever you can to prevent catching it...a perspective of someone who has had malaria befre over fifteen times.

    June 23, 2008 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Preston Duckett

    You don’t really hear about malaria on the news. And after checking out a few links via Google, it is amazing the breadth and impact of the disease – and the lack of coverage and awareness about the issue. As a student studying international relations, it is inspiring to know that organizations are making real impacts on the ground on issues that most people don’t even know ARE issues. Africa faces many challenges, but eliminating malaria seems to be one that is well within the grasp of the global community with a little support.

    June 23, 2008 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jodi

    I recently spent a few months in a malaria endemic region of West Africa. Before I went, malaria was presented to me as a deadly disease
    that, if contracted, would lead to some serious long-lasting damages.
    When I arrived, I was surprised to find that this was (at least for me) not the case. My protective measures would go a long way in prevention: prophylactics, bednets, bug spray. If I got it, I would be taken to the hospital and be given a three-day course of treatment to take at home. In sum: malaria is both preventable and treatable.

    Still, malaria stands as the number one killer of children under the age of 5 in sub-Saharan Africa. For those who fall prey to malaria and have
    no affordable hospital or clinic to turn to, malaria will be a painful experience with side effects ranging from economic loss to death. Millions of people a year fall into the latter half of that category. Yet, what I've realized is that the deadliness of malaria is not so much a testament to the voracity of the disease as it is a testament to the need to enhance prevention efforts and further commit to finding a vaccine. More importantly, I believe it calls for a strengthening of infrastructure to increase the accessibility and affordability of health care and education in these regions. The cost of these few steps do not outweigh the benefit of saving millions of lives.

    The world has the technology, the medicine and the capital to bring malaria's reign to an end. To do so, there will need to be a lot of people on board–from CEOs to Prime Ministers to schoolchildren and nurses. I'm glad that organizations like Malaria No More exist to put a voice to the movement and that mainstream media like CNN is reporting on this important and widely impacting issue.

    June 24, 2008 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jim

    Here in California we have the pests & it's west nile virus they tell us to worry about. Repelant does NOT work on me- Last night I practicly BATHED myself in OFF & It was a dinner bell to the little buggers
    who practically ate me alive I had to go back inside.

    July 5, 2008 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 6, 2012 at 02:17 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.