WHO focuses on vector-borne diseases for World Health Day 2014

The World Health Organization on Wednesday announced its "Small bite, big threat" campaign that aims to educate about vector-borne illness during World Health Day on April 7.


WHO said more than one million people die every year from malaria, dengue, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, schistosomiasis and yellow fever passed to humans by mosquitoes, flies, ticks and water snails, among other vectors.


"A global health agenda that gives higher priority to vector control could save many lives and avert much suffering," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said. "Simple, cost-effective interventions like insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying have already saved millions of lives."


WHO reports that vector-borne illnesses impact the world's poorest populations, and are prevalent in areas without adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation. People who are malnourished and have weak immune systems are more susceptible to sickness.


Schistosomiasis, which causes anemia and reduced ability to learn, is the most widespread vector-borne disease, and affect approximately 240 million people. It is transmitted by water snails, and can be controlled through mass treatment with effective medication and improving safe drinking water and sanitation.


WHO said that many vector-borne diseases have re-emerged or spread to new areas because of environmental changes, an increase in travel and trade, changes in agricultural practices and rapid urbanization.


Dengue fever has spread to 100 countries, including China, Portugal and the United States. WHO reported that Greece has experienced a resurgence of malaria for the first time in 40 years.


"Vector control remains the most important tool in preventing outbreaks of vector-borne diseases," WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases Director Lorenzo Savioli said. "Increased funds and political commitment are needed to sustain existing vector-control tools, as well as medicines and diagnostic tools - and to conduct urgently needed research."