Leo Braack (Technical Lead: APMEN VCWG)
For more than a century it has been recognized that the single most effective approach towards malaria reduction is by way of vector control. When work on the Panama Canal in Central America was stalled in the late 1800s for several years due to the exceptionally high mortality among workers caused by a combination of malaria and yellow fever, it was revived through effective vector control. This took the form of screening of houses to reduce mosquito entry, but also larval control by way of draining of ditches and marshes and using the arsenic-based larvicidal compound Paris Green. Today it is widely acknowledged that the combination of the use of Long-Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) and Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) has made the greatest contribution towards the major reduction in malaria cases globally over the past two decades. This is not to downplay the very important role of case management and chemo-prevention, but it does indicate the critical importance of vector control and the necessity for a strong cadre of well-trained vector biologists.
This is precisely where the APMEN Vector Control Working Group (VCWG) shows its relevance and value, by contributing towards the establishment and maintenance of appropriate vector control expertise in the Asia Pacific region. Through its annual meetings and consultative processes with members and especially interactions with National Malaria Control Programmes, capacity needs are identified and then translated into support in one way or another.
Our main support in recent times has been the two-week “Vector Surveillance for Malaria Elimination” course, in collaboration with an appropriately-skilled and located partner institution. This year it will be hosted by Kasetsart University in Bangkok, and although multiple themes will be covered including insecticide resistance testing, sampling methodologies, GIS mapping and others, the emphasis will be on morphological identifications skills for adult and larval vector species.
Another form of capacity-building support this year is by way of sponsorship of four competitively-selected participants to attend a six-month course for the Diploma in Applied Parasitology and Entomology (DAP&E) presented by the Institute for Medical Research in Malaysia.
This year VCWG is also supporting a multi-nation trial to test the efficacy of recently developed new approaches for outdoor collections of malaria vectors, as potential alternatives to the “Gold Standard” but ethically-dubious Human Landing Catch method. In this series of trials, scientists from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam will run comparative trials to test efficiencies of the Human Decoy Trap, Double Net Trap, and Barrier-fencing capture technique, relative to mosquito captures from the human landing technique.
There is a substantial number of vector biologists and practitioners that work within the Asia Pacific region, forming a broad community of practice that shares common interests and needs. One of these needs is a platform to share experiences and lessons learnt with each other, be updated about recent developments in the vector and related fields, put heads together to identify current needs within the vector control ambit and explore ways in which to address these needs. The traditional way to achieve this has been through periodic conferences, and while these are important events for networking and building relationships, they also tend to be expensive and infrequent. An alternative way to achieve this is by way of a specialized and targeted website which serves this specific community of practice. We are now very close to the public release of the “Online Research Network for Entomologists” (ORENE). This facility will be a repository for vector control information resources and sharing, and we expect to release by end-July 2019. A mailer with more details on the platform will be circulated shortly and we invite everyone to participate and contribute to the development of this new tool.