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A dire need: research centre for mosquito-borne diseases

Dear health secretary of Gujarat,

We recently passed World Malaria Day without much public awareness, but it turned a part of my long-standing dream into reality; so, I am tempted to write this open letter to you to take it one step forward.

You may not be aware but mosquito is the raison d’être for this column as it was my immense fear for the power of nature’s exponential maths (that this vector and its pathogens use) that I shared with the intrepid editor of DNA and convinced him to take the risk of printing a science column in a city where a lecture on science rarely gets even a double digit audience!

As I continued my fear-mongering, it has now resulted in Gujarat University and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation inking an MoU on this world malaria day that will, hopefully commence serious research on mosquito-borne diseases in the city.

I am tempted to drag you into this issue; as I just read a New York Times news item on World Malaria Day that is of our mutual interest. NYT states that fatal malaria is getting more prevalent in USA, and it provides a curious reason, i.e. immigrants visiting India during Christmas bring malaria to USA.

For me and you, this small news item has two different learnings. For me, who is curious about mosquitos’ ecology, it shows that malaria is now common even in peak of winter where mosquito population should be at the lowest.

For you, who is in charge of health of Gujarat, it is an insight into how the developed world deals with such problems. 

If one reads NYT as an Indian and sees the numbers that led to this alarmist news item, they are almost amusing. The study found attention as it pushed annual malaria case for USA to an astounding 2100!

As we live in a city that beats all USA numbers and more in a single month, this sounds like useless academic nitpicking, but this is what makes USA what it is, a developed nation.

The brutal reality is, India has always played the “poor” card and never considered research a priority. This strange strategy has led us to waste enormous amount of resources in symptomatic management of our problems without finding a cure. 

Mosquito-borne diseases are possibly at the apex of healthcare problems for a tropical country like ours and we spend billions of rupees to deal with them, but we do it like a blind man shooting in dark, while countries like USA thrive on research and pre-cognition of the problem even when it is hardly evident. 

The dire need for Gujarat is to establish a center of excellence for research on vector-borne diseases. 

The scary reality is, we are standing in front of a floodgate due to our apathy towards understanding the power of pathogens that ride mosquitoes and our suicidal love for water-retaining structures. If we want to escape an apocalyptic epidemic that is almost inevitably going to hit us soon, we really need to wake up.

At this point we are looking at pathogens that are already here, but the bigger risk is of those that are lurking to jump onto the Pathogen Rapid Transit System we have put in place by turning our cities into mosquito-breeding-heavens. We are simply not prepared for something like zika or chandipura that can hit us with disastrous result. 

We need a intensely proactive research center, preferably in academic environment that is continuously studying local mosquito populations and pathogens that hide in various bio-reservoirs. 

It is my sincere request that you initiate a process to set up such a research facility to save us from a possible tragedy. We needed it decades back, so there is no time to waste. 

– A mosquito-paranoid citizen 

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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