Where Kasun Chameera lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, just about everybody you speak to knows somebody who has been afflicted with dengue fever.
For Kasun, it was his brother.
“My brother was infected by it. He suffered a lot from it. For at least 1-2 months, he would be tired walking just ten steps. We were very scared because we knew dengue can bring you death,” says Kasun.
Dengue can cause a high fever, headache, rash, vomiting and muscle and joint aches. But it can also develop into the more serious dengue haemorrhagic fever, or severe dengue, which is a more acute form of the disease that includes symptoms such as bleeding under the skin and constant vomiting.
Kasun says that there is also a social and financial cost to dengue.
Dengue impacts everyone, but is especially rife in densely populated cities like Colombo.
That's why when Kasun heard about what the World Mosquito Program is doing to combat dengue, he was determined to be involved.
How Wolbachia protects communities against dengue
There is currently no vaccine against dengue, and Kasun says that conventional preventative measures such as smoke and artificial chemicals often have negative side effects for the community — they’re not long-term solutions.
That's what makes the Wolbachia method developed by the World Mosquito Program so effective. When mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, the bacteria compete with viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. This means that mosquitoes are much less likely to spread viruses from person to person.
The World Mosquito Program releases mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia in partnership with the community over 3-6 months. When these Wolbachia mosquitoes breed with the wild mosquito population, their offspring all carry the bacteria.
Post-release monitoring consistently shows that, over time, the percentage of mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia grows until it remains high without the need for further releases, making Wolbachia a long-term protection against mosquito-borne disease.
“I think we can eliminate the risk of dengue from the country”
Kasun first heard about the World Mosquito Program’s work through his mother, who brought home a leaflet about the Wolbachia method. Since then, Kasun and his family have helped with everything from awareness raising to mosquito releases.
“[The World Mosquito Program] were doing research by collecting mosquito samples. We installed a machine that collects those samples in our house while we supported the officer who came to install it. We did a walk to raise awareness of Wolbachia as well. We always supported them in everything they did. We release the mosquitoes infected by Wolbachia to the environment in this project.”
After seeing the success of the method in Australia, where dengue has been eliminated, Kasun is hopeful that he can help the World Mosquito Program do the same in Sri Lanka.
“Once this was tried in Australia, they say they didn’t find a single case of dengue for [10 to 11] years]. So I believe if it’s implemented properly in Sri Lanka, I think we can eliminate the risk of dengue from the country which will help the people living in the cities very much.”
Our work is only possible because of the support of the community volunteers like Kasun. Together, we’re helping protect people all over the world from mosquito-borne diseases.