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!


Ramesh said...

Ah, I could write almost a full post in response.

I didn't know the origins of tonic water. Is that the real story ? Wow .

Firstly we should commend the work that Bill & Melinda Gates are doing through their Foundation for fighting malaria. Eradication is, well, impossible. But it can be really fought. And so much good is being done by the Gates. Incidentally did you watch the TED talk where Bill Gates lets loose a few mosquitoes during his talk on health problems in the world - great way of grabbing attention to malaria.

One of the paradoxes in fighting malaria is that it is not money, but people's attitudes that are coming in the way of the "war". Firstly the appalling lack of public hygiene, exemplified best by Chennai. People live in million dollar homes in Adyar, right on the banks of a huge sewer called the Adyar "river". I am not sure what is the value of a house worth a few crores when you have to "seal it" as a defence against mosquitoes. More money is spent on TVs or mobile phones than on cleaning up the place (that is, incidentally, a universal truth. Like there are more mobile phones sold in the world than toothbrushes)

An even greater problem is people's reluctance to use mosquito nets, even when distributed free. Both the Gates Foundation and the Indian government distributes millions of mosquito nets. People don't want to use them. They would rather contract malaria and get a highly dubious injection from a quack than prevent it using a mosquito net given free - well chronicled in the book Poor Economics.

The mosquito, like the cockroach, is destined to be with us for ever. All the nukes in the world won't win us this war.

By the way, what is your problem with eradication of erectile dysfunction ?? :)

Sriram Khé said...

The Gates Foundation has been awesome in this, yes. And with polio. And with so many other issues.

But, as you point out, there is only so much a Gates or a WHO can do. Every visit to Chennai, I am horrified at how much people tolerate the unclean conditions in the public space. Even when they know fully well that these are public health issues and will easily come back to bite them, literally too via mosquitoes!

When I hear about, or read about, young radicals in India protesting against GMO and nuclear power and everything else that is the fad here in the West, I feel like slapping them hard and asking them why they aren't looking at their own piece of the world and working on those very problems. Like the garbage and rotting food on the streets. Even the great Gandhi didn't merely jump into the freedom struggle--he started with small stuff by understanding issues in his own small georgaphic area--that too in South Africa!

All those attitude changes cannot be brought about by the Gates Foundation, which itself is routinely criticized by many of the so called radicals concerned for the poor!!!

Yes, the tonic water and gin/tonic is real. It is a part of history. interesting, eh.

ED is certainly a problem. No doubt about it. But, when it comes to humor and satire, it is certainly no "hard" target. One can be laidback and not "erect" when addressing that humor. Joking about ED won't make one a "dick" either because it is considered fair game ... enough? ;)

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, check out the cool graphic and video that Bill Gates has here: