The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for renewed focus on vector control and improved provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene in the world.
The world body said “these are key strategies outlined in WHO’s 2011 Road Map for the Control, Elimination and Eradication of Neglected Tropical Diseases.’’
The health organisation made the call ahead of this year’s World Health Day on April 7, saying more than half of the world’s population is at risk from disease.
Such diseases include malaria, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, lyme disease, schistosomiasis and yellow fever, carried by mosquitoes, flies, ticks, water snails and other vectors.
It said that every year, more than one billion people were infected and more than one million die from vector-borne diseases.
Therefore, the global health body said it had decided to use this year’s observance of the highlight the serious and increasing threat of vector-borne diseases, with the slogan “Small bite, big threat”.
WHO also emphasised that these diseases were entirely preventable.
A newly-published global brief on vector-borne diseases outlines steps that governments, community groups and families can all take to protect people from infection.
“A global health agenda that gives higher priority to vector control could save many lives and avert much suffering.
“Simple, cost-effective interventions like insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying have already saved millions of lives,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.
“No one in the 21st century should die from the bite of a mosquito, a sandfly, a blackfly or a tick.”
According to WHO, schistosomiasis, transmitted by water snails, is the most widespread of all vector-borne diseases, affecting almost 240 million people worldwide.
Children living and playing near infested water are particularly vulnerable to this disease which causes anemia and a reduced ability to learn.
Schistosomiasis can be controlled through regular mass treatment of at-risk groups with a safe, effective medicine, as well as improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Within the past two decades, many important vector-borne diseases have also re-emerged or spread to new parts of the world.
Environmental changes, a massive increase in international travel and trade, changes in agricultural practices and rapid unplanned urbanisation are causing an increase in the number and spread of many vectors worldwide.
It made new groups of people, notably tourists and business travellers, vulnerable.
Mosquito-borne dengue, for example, is now found in 100 countries, putting more than 2.5 billion people over 40 per cent of the world’s population at risk.
Dengue has recently been reported in China, Portugal and the state of Florida, U.S.
Reports from Greece say that malaria has returned there for the first time in 40 years as funds have been cut for spraying programmes.
The World Health Day is celebrated on April 7, every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the WHO in 1948. (PANA/NAN)