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Biologist Totok Pratopo is a champion of the Code River in Yogyakarta. At the river school, he teaches children about the environment and about Wolbachia.

Biologist Totok Pratopo

The Sekolah Sungai, or river school, was set up in the Code River area to provide education programs for children. Based on the idea that conservation starts with education, and that children need opportunities to learn and have a healthy start, once a week the Sekolah Sungai teaches children about the river, health and disaster mitigation.

“We have seen the children grow up interested in preserving the river, not littering or polluting, or allowing building without permission on the river bank,” says Totok. “They learn all about the river’s biotic and abiotic elements.”

The Code River is also an environment in which mosquitoes breed, like Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that transmits the dengue virus. Until recently, Totok saw dengue fever cases from his neighbourhood every year. Some people died, mostly children under 12 years of age.

In response, government programs focused on encouraging community service – clearing places where water pools – and on killing the mosquitoes by distributing chemical powders, introducing fish predators and spraying insecticides or ‘fogging’ in response to reported dengue cases. But the mosquitoes became resistant to the fogging and the sprayed insecticide stayed in the environment.

a student at the River School
 

Then the World Mosquito Program offered an alternative that could be used alongside other programs – the Wolbachia method – a safe, self-sustaining approach to eliminating the transmission of dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever viruses, all transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Totok was fascinated and wanted to understand the Wolbachia method, so he asked a lot of questions at the Gadjah Mada University (UGM).

“I wanted to understand how the technology is used to get the bacteria into the eggs, how Wolbachia develops and is transmitted when the adult Aedes aegypti mates and how the dengue virus is defeated. I asked to be shown the laboratory and then I understood that the Wolbachia method is a low-risk way of reducing the risk of dengue fever.”

Being a teacher and a biologist, Totok wanted to explain all of this to the community, particularly children.

“It’s not just about me learning about Wolbachia. I want to help the community, including neighbourhood officials, so that they will know it’s so important that Wolbachia is a success, not just for the community but for the environment. We don’t want chemicals in the river.”
Totok Pratopo
Biologist

In the last year, Totok’s neighbourhood has been 100 per cent free of dengue fever.

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