In the fight against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, could drones be the answer?
Shankar Chaudhary, the Health Minister for Gujarat, seems to think so. At an event in May to launch an anti-malaria campaign in the state, he said “the mosquito is a terrorist…a silent killer.” To this end, the minister suggested, “we should get drones…to check for mosquito breeding.”
‘The mosquito is a terrorist…we should get drones’
The idea may seem an outlandish one at face value. However, the use of drone technology in the fight against vector-borne diseases is not new. In 2014, researchers in Borneo utilised drones in an effort to map out areas affected by the plasmodium knowlesi malaria parasite, in order to gain an understanding of why humans were becoming infected in greater numbers.
Microsoft have also made use of drone technology in the fight against infectious diseases. Their Project Premonition went a step above simple mapping, however. They actually sought to detect, capture and transport mosquitoes so that blood samples could be taken. These samples would be used to determine whether or not the mosquitoes were carrying diseases transmitted to them from animals or vice versa.
Chaudhary’s proposal is to use drones to check for breeding sites at homes. His statement came at the same time as the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) launched a scheme to dispatch “as many as 1,650 health workers to visit 15.4 lakh houses and other places to check for mosquito breeding sites.”
The scheme was launched Wednesday, May 24 and concluded on Friday, June 9. The results were alarming.
Mosquito-borne diseases a rising threat
In the city of Ahmedabad alone, almost 30,000 mosquito-breeding sites were identified, along with over 10,000 suspected cases of malaria. 56 cases were confirmed, along with two cases of dengue fever and two cases of falciparum malaria – a more malignant strain of the disease. Between January and May this year, in excess of 2,500 vector-borne diseases were reported, including 150 cases of chikungunya and dengue.
Malaria infections in Ahmedabad have been steadily rising in recent years. AMC data shows 6,358 cases in 2014; 6,857 in 2015; and 9,979 in 2016. This is despite the optimism of Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda that the state, along with Maharashtra and Karnataka, will eradicate malaria by 2020.
The recent findings indicate that such lofty targets are not close to being achieved. Seeing new technological solutions – such as the use of drones – offered by senior health officials is undeniably a positive sign. Yet such ideas are not just a matter of conception for sound bites. They also require the political will to be executed.