Today, 7 April 2014, we commemorate World Health Day under the theme: “Vector-borne diseases: small bite, big threat”. The aim of this commemoration is to raise awareness about the threat posed by a group of diseases that are spread by insects and other vectors. Mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and freshwater snails are some of the vectors that spread diseases such as malaria, human African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness, river blindness, bilharzia, elephantiasis, leishmaniasis, yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya.
In the African Region, the social and economic impact of vector-borne diseases is very high and the poorest people are the most affected. In 2012 alone, there was an estimated 564 000 and 36 500 deaths caused by malaria and sleeping sickness, respectively. More than 45 million people are at risk of elephantiasis, and river blindness is still prevalent in 20 countries where 15.7 million people are infected by it and 500 000 are visually impaired as a result of this infection.
Factors that contribute to the burden of vector-borne diseases include environmental and climate changes. Precarious living conditions increase the risk of vector-borne diseases. Furthermore, vector resistance to insecticides constitutes a serious threat to vector control.
Today, it is encouraging to note the progress made in the African Region to tackle vector-borne diseases. For example, between 2001 and 2012 an estimated 337 million cases of malaria were averted. Similarly, river blindness is no longer a public health problem in West African countries. Although the sustained scaling-up of proven cost-effective interventions has led to significant reduction of vector-borne diseases, much more needs to be done.
We can protect ourselves and our families by taking simple preventive measures for keeping our environment clean and less conducive to vector breeding and survival. In addition using other personal protective measures such as insecticide-treated nets avoids the bite of the insects that transmit diseases.
As we commemorate World Health Day, I urge governments and people to take concrete promotive and protective actions to prevent the big threat caused by small bites.
The World Health Organization will continue to promote integrated vector management as the best approach to strengthen vector control. As the health sector cannot, on its own, prevent vector proliferation and vector-borne diseases, other sectors such as environment, agriculture and local government are called upon to play their role in the fight against these diseases. It is only together that we can end the needless suffering and deaths caused by vector-borne diseases.
I thank you