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Australian Scientists Awarded $50 Million Funding Boost to Fight Mosquito-Borne Diseases

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Mosquito-borne diseases disproportionately affect the poorest communities — people without access to adequate health services. Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations' Global Goals, including issues related to global health. You can take action here.

Australia just became an international frontrunner in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases.

Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne were awarded a $50 million grant to advance successful research efforts, giving hope that the negative health effects of the world’s deadliest animal could soon be curbed.

The financial donation from the Wellcome Trust and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support Monash University’s World Mosquito Program over three years as it attempts to tame dengue fever, Zika, and the Chikungunya virus across Australia, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

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“We know this project has already demonstrated and proved the kinds of diseases it can wipe out and how it can do it,” Monash University Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner said in a statement. “In our lifetimes I believe we are going to see these diseases that once wreaked devastation be no longer. This project will transform people's lives.”

The program recently received increased attention after a four-year long trial to stop local dengue transmissions proved a success in the far north Australian city of Townsville. Operating throughout 12 countries, the World Mosquito Program inserts natural bacteria present in 60% of all insects into disease carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which, in turn, reduces their ability to pass on various viruses.

World Mosquito Program Director Scott O’Neill is confident that the latest financial injection, which brings the overall donation by the two foundations to $185 million since 2010, will allow the project to increase its overall reach.

"What we've found is that when mosquitos have this bacterium inside their bodies the viruses can't grow inside them, and if they can't grow, they can't be transmitted between people,” he stated. “While we are working in 12 countries now, one of our key goals is to be able to expand that, to be in most of the countries in the world within the next 10 years where dengue and these other diseases are a major problem.”

Dengue fever causes flu-like symptoms that can lead to potentially deadly complications. Over the past few years, there has been a surge in dengue cases recorded worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, half the world’s population is currently at risk.

The Zika virus first gained notice in 2014, with the WHO declaring the virus a global health emergency in 2016. In the same year, the virus become extensively associated with the birth defect microcephaly, which causes significant brain abnormalities. The lesser-known Chikungunya virus causes fever and joint pain, and has been detected in over 60 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

There are various worldwide organisations working towards securing funding for research on various mosquito-borne and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), including the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, the END Fund, and Anesvad. Due to neglected tropical diseases primarily affecting the poorest of the poor, they often receive little funding and attention.

“The poorest of the poor are those who are exposed to living conditions which are unsanitary,” the executive director of ARNNTD John Amuasi stated. “They live in close proximity to the vectors or to disease-causing organisms.”

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Whilst funding from charities is important, Amuasi believes it is government attention, initiatives, and funds that are most essential to ensuring the world’s poor are able to live free from the global burden of mosquito-borne and neglected tropical diseases.

“The presence of these diseases is a very important measure of the degree of poverty within any setting," he stated. "We cannot say we are addressing poverty without addressing neglected tropical diseases, and you cannot really address these diseases without addressing poverty.”