The Disruptive Mosquito

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About a month ago, my sister announced that she had been diagnosed with dengue. This happened soon after she had visited me in Bangalore. As I rushed to catch the first flight to be with her in Mumbai, I couldn’t but wonder at how a tiny insect like the mosquito could continue to strike down the human species with new and debilitating viruses each time. Zika, dengue, chikungunya – different names, different continents – all with one common factor – a certain mosquito. And this, after most of the world has rid itself of malaria!

To me, these mosquito borne virus strains and the like are the new “left-field disruptions” – situations that catch you off guard and shake up the rhythm of your existence. I mean, who would have thought that dengue and chikungunya would continue to afflict city dwellers, regardless of the neighborhood they lived in? Who would have thought that yet another mosquito-borne disease, zika, would rear its ugly head, and spread across the world with such alarming speed and intensity? Who would have predicted, a few years ago, that this same disease would be one of the biggest disruptors in the run-up to the Rio Olympics, prompting some of the world’s best athletes to drop out of the games?

Just the other day, I was reading about another new mosquito-borne illness that was recently detected in Haiti. How can one stay ahead and mitigate the risk of contracting these new avatars of mosquito-borne diseases? When will this ever end?

Take my sister. She’s fit, in good health and a veteran traveler. Should she have replaced her body lotion with mosquito repellant to avoid being bitten (in the daytime, I might add) by a dengue-spreading mosquito? Or, should I have ensured that my home was mosquito-free through the day? Should I have approached the municipal authorities, and voiced my concerns about the mosquito menace in my city? GRC experts will probably say that I should have checked all these boxes. In addition to these, they might have also raised questions of governance, an obvious one being why city councils and public health authorities are not stepping up to the need of the hour to combat the growing mosquito menace.

Our current reality is that we live in a risky world with disruptions coming out of the left field frequently. The only way to deal with them is to be prepared – to watch out, anticipate those risks, and respond quickly. Of course, that’s easier said than done. How can you try and predict every single risk or disruption?

But here’s where technology – and, in particular, big data analytics — can be very useful. I came across some encouraging stories of how data modeling techniques have the potential to actually control the spread of zika, and predict new outbreaks of the disease. In fact, big data analytics have already played a significant role in containing previous viral outbreaks such as ebola and dengue. They’re also enabling researchers at the University of Warwick to analyze terabytes of mosquito images in order to develop better nets and physical protection against the malaria-spreading insect.

These are just a few examples, but they make me optimistic. Risks are not going to fade away, but perhaps a growing awareness of GRC, and a greater sense of responsibility and accountability will spur civic authorities to create a cleaner, disease-free environment for all.  On a personal note, I realize that I am as exposed to this risk as anyone else in my city, and I need to do whatever I possibly can to ensure that I protect myself, my family and my home from risks like these that are lurking around the corner. After all, one can never be too careful!

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