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World Malaria Day: India fights mosquitoes with guppy fish project

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Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease characterized by shaking chills, high fever, anemia and flu-like illnesses, caused the death of approximately 627,000 people worldwide in 2012. Although preventable, the disease remains prevalent in many countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In observance of the World Malaria Day on Friday, April 25, the World Health Organization called for increased funding to eliminate malaria and protect communities from the disease. Drug resistance, insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and reintroduction of the disease in places that have already been made malaria-free threaten to reverse the gains in efforts to control the disease.

In Mangalore, a port city in southwest India, school children and volunteers hope to curb the occurrence of the disease via the Guppy movement, a campaign that aims to control malaria by using a rather peculiar but natural means of eliminating mosquitoes using guppies.

The guppy (Poecilia reticulata), a freshwater fish popularly kept in aquariums, eats mosquito larvae and eggs and thus helps reduce the spread of malaria as the disease is caused by the parasite Plasmodium, which is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. As a means to control mosquitoes, the guppies are left in stagnant water puddles where mosquitoes breed. The fish would then eat the mosquito eggs and larvae, leading to reduced mosquito population.

Volunteers of the guppy movement visit schools and hospitals with jars of water that contain mosquito larvae and guppies to show people how the fish helps in mosquito and malaria control. They also conduct street plays to raise awareness about malaria.

In Shillong in northeastern India, government officials organize malaria prevention workshops that teach participants how to breed Guppies. The state has already seen a 50 percent reduction in mosquito-borne diseases after it initiated the breeding of guppies for controlling malaria in 2012.

Breeding guppy fish for malaria control apparently worked in India's Assam state as well. Nripendra Kumar Sarma from the public health engineering department said that bio-control helped Assam significantly reduce its malaria cases.

"Till 2012, we had over 30,000 cases each year. But now they are no more than 3,000-4,000. This approach can very well be initiated in areas (of the country) that are prone to malaria, dengue and encephalitis, all of which are mosquito-borne diseases," Nripendra Kumar Sarma said.

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