Friday, April 25, 2014

The world's most dangerous animal

In my groggy state yesterday morning, I thought I heard a familiar voice through the radio.  "I know this voice" I kept telling myself.

And then it clicked.

No, that voice did not belong to the most dangerous animal that I am referring to.

The voice was of the nerdy, wonky, super-rich Bill Gates.

I perked up.

In response to the question of how rich countries were able to get rid of malaria, Gates replied:
They're mostly near the equator and so they're getting malaria on a year-round basis. The thing we have in the U.S. where we had malaria was that during the winter we had very few people who were carrying the malaria parasite. In subsequent winters you had less and less people carrying it over until eventually had zero.
But we don't have winters around the equator, so it requires far better tools than it required for the United States.
Yes, a paradise for the parasite and for mosquitoes.  The mosquito, dear reader, is one heck of a dangerous animal. (ht)

There is an old joke about how big is not powerful; the comeback to that is, "you spend a night in a tent with a mosquito and let me know."

A few years ago, I listened to a science journalist talk about her book with Terry Gross--I recall the journalist was an Indian-American, who had written a book on mosquitoes.  She said something to the effect that if we eliminated mosquitoes from this planet, there would be no difference at all.  Or, actually, the difference will be that we humans will be healthier.  I don't know if she was being serious or if that was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but in any case I would rather pay taxes to kill all the damn mosquitoes on earth.

It turned out that it was all because April 25th is World Malaria Day.  We need to build on the good work that has been done:
Since 2000, there has been a 42 per cent reduction in malaria mortality rates globally, and a 49 per cent decline in the WHO African Region. This progress has led some malaria-endemic countries, even those with historically high burdens of malaria, to start exploring the possibility of elimination.
The world knows how to get this done.  Lack of resources is the number one reason.  Not having enough money to go after the pesky malaria is understandable; after all, don't we first need money to build better and better bombs and missiles, and to eradicate forever erectile dysfunction? As George Carlin noted it is "dick fear"--bombs and missiles are so much dick-shaped and it is no wonder we want to spend all the money we can on making sure that the missile and the penis are upright and ready!

For those of you who are not teetotalers like me, if you are wondering what drink you could have to celebrate the day, make yourself a gin and tonic. Why?  The story goes back to the era of the British Empire:
Quinine powder quickly became critical to the health of the empire. By the 1840s British citizens and soldiers in India were using 700 tons of cinchona bark annually for their protective doses of quinine. Quinine powder kept the troops alive, allowed officials to survive in low-lying and wet regions of India, and ultimately permitted a stable (though surprisingly small) British population to prosper in Britain’s tropical colonies. Quinine was so bitter, though, that British officials stationed in India and other tropical posts took to mixing the powder with soda and sugar. “Tonic water,” of a sort, was born. ...
It was only natural that at some point during this time an enterprising colonial official combined his (or her) daily dose of protective quinine tonic with a shot (or two) of gin. Rather than knock back a bitter glass of tonic in the morning, why not enjoy it in the afternoon with a healthy gin ration?
The gin and tonic was born—and the cool, crisp concoction could, as Churchill observed, start saving all those English lives.
Let us save a lot more lives--English or not.  Not the damn mosquitoes' lives though!

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