Photo via wildxplorer via Flickr CC
Mosquitoes spread Malaria, and while the drug to combat the disease is relatively cheap, the distribution of it is problematic. That's why mosquito nets are such an important measure of prevention - they're cheaper and easier to dispense. But there's an even better way to combat Malaria, and without the use of chemicals, including the increasingly less effective DDT. Over the last 50-some years, we've tried to defeat mosquitoes with chemicals, but as those lose their killing power, communities are finding that the old ways of dealing with the disease-bearing pests is to get them where it really hurts - their birthing grounds. By draining bodies of standing water like puddles and irrigation canals, communities across the globe are finding it more productive to follow ecology rather than chemistry, and Mexico had ditched DDT altogether. According to Yale 360, Mexico once used DDT and other insecticides to fight Malaria, even spraying it inside people's homes (though pesticide-soaked wallpaper seems to be slightly safer...). As much as 70,000 tons of DDT was used between 1957 and 1999 in the effort to prevent malaria. However, in 1998, Oaxaca introduced methods of clearing vegetation along waterways and it showed effective - so effective that the number of malaria cases dropped from 17,500 to 254 in two years, and Mexico incorporated the more eco-friendly methods.
By 2008, Mexico had ditched insecticides including DDT in all its anti-malaria efforts and the number of deaths from malaria reported during that year was a whopping zero.
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Other areas across the globe, including China, are also looking at non-chemical methods to control mosquitoes, and it's working. It depends upon figuring out what works best for mosquitoes in that area, and then nixing it. Each species of malaria-carrying mosquito has a particular preference in where they lay their eggs - some like shady moving water, some like standing water, and so on. After figuring out where the species likes to be, a community can revamp how they deal with the water body. Sometimes it means just cleaning up trash or vegetation so water can flow freely in a stream, sometimes it means leveling roads so puddles don't form, or installing sanitation systems in homes.
Image via otisarchives2 via Flickr CC
The solutions vary by area and it can take several years to figure out what works for that region, but they all have one thing in common - they allow the region to leave behind the use of chemicals in preventing malaria, and when it comes to a world full of chemical-resistant bugs, that's a good thing.
As Yale 260 states, "As dramatically effective and universally applicable chemical methods may be, they cannot provide the long-lasting sustainability of environmental management methods. None of the chemical methods of malaria control last longer than a handful of years. Insecticide-treated bednets must be replaced or re-treated every three to four years. Drugs must be continually administered. Interior walls must be re-sprayed with insecticide every six to 12 months... The benefits of environmental management techniques -- their longer-term sustainability, ability to harness community participation, and lower overall costs -- may tip the balance in their favor in other fronts in the war on malaria"