Chick­ens to the res­cue of hu­man­ity?

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News - Per­spec­tive Stephen Mpofu

BUZZING its ter­ror­ist sig­na­ture tune, the tiny in­sect tears through the dark, its au­di­tory equip­ment scan­ning the bed­room for any snores from vic­tims dead asleep.

Mo­ments later it alights on a feathered vic­tim but scur­ries away for its life, and col­lides with a win­dow­pane be­fore find­ing its way to safety out­side.

At an­other home, din­ner and evening prayers over, the fam­ily gets ready to re­tire for the night. The mother of the house goes to the chil­dren’s bed­room and is heard mo­ments later say­ing, “Now what’s this? Who flung the win­dow open, which I had shut ear­lier, for mos­qui­toes to swarm in on the chil­dren in their sleep?”

“Don’t worry, dear, the kids will be all right”, the fa­ther of the house re­sponded with not a hint of worry in his boom­ing voice.

“Ah!” Came the wife’s re­sponse, her voice fear-rid­den. “When did you be­come so cal­lous to re­joice over those mon­strous crea­tures feast­ing on your help­less kids with the bed­room win­dow so wide open and the cur­tain help­less to pre­vent the in­sects com­ing?”

“Oh, so you haven’t heard the good news, dear?” The man went on, his voice be­tray­ing mirth in it.

“No, fa­ther, but please tell me all about the good news,” the wife said, with a glint of relief in her big, ro­man­tic eyes star­ring in the broad, smil­ing bearded face of her hus­band who pro­ceeded to share the good news with her.

The two in­ci­dents nar­rated above are not true sto­ries, but cre­ative and yet quiet plau­si­ble.

To be sure, they drama­tise the joy, but at this stage a glim­mer of it, ig­nited by news of sci­en­tific re­search car­ried out in a cer­tain East African coun­try on the bat­tle against malaria which kills count­less numbers of peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren, in Africa each year.

A re­cent in­ter­na­tional Press re­port said the re­searchers had dis­cov­ered that the odour of chick­ens dis­pels mos­qui­toes.

Which sug­gests that repli­ca­tion of the re­search else­where and val­i­da­tion of the re­sults might touch off global relief in the bat­tle against mos­qui­toes , with the new health men­ace, Zika on the ram­page from Brazil hav­ing al­ready spread its ten­ta­cles to the United States of Amer­ica and to as far as Sin­ga­pore on the other side of the globe.

Sum­mer­time in Zim­babwe wit­nesses the malar­i­aspread­ing mos­qui­toes, the anophe­les, on the ram­page and wreck­ing havoc in hu­man lives, with the drug coartem com­monly be­ing used to fight the disease, ac­cord­ing to a pri­vate surgery in Bu­l­awayo which said ear­lier this week that it had run out of the drug.

A city phar­macy said it cost $6 for a full course of coartem to treat malaria.

But if that amount is added to a con­sul­ta­tion fee of around $6 a child or around $15 for a sick adult at a clinic or hos­pi­tal, not to men­tion much more at a pri­vate surgery, the cost be­comes out of reach es­pe­cially for the very poor in ru­ral ar­eas where mos­qui­toes are more preva­lent and par­tic­u­larly now with the econ­omy in deep dol­drums.

The Min­is­ter of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parireny­atwa, could not com­ment on the re­ported re­search find­ings on chick­ens and mos­qui­toes. He and a physi­cian at a pri­vate surgery in Bu­l­awayo said they had both not heard of the re­search which the press re­port said had brought much ex­cite­ment to the sci­en­tist in­volved in the study.

Zika ap­pears to have whipped up fears sim­i­lar to those which Is­lamic state ter­ror­ists are spread­ing around the globe, with United States Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mrs Hi­lary Clin­ton say­ing that if she be­came pres­i­dent she would set up an emer­gency fund to­talling bil­lions of dol­lars to spend in the fight against the Zika virus that has spread to her coun­try, thanks to tourists from the South Amer­i­can coun­try that first re­ported the out­break of the disease which causes chil­dren to be born with small heads and small brains.

The pos­si­bil­ity of a world-wide up­surge in the spread of Zika can­not be wished off with some of the ath­letes who at­tended the re­cent Olympic games in Brazil most likely to have been bit­ten by mos­qui­toes car­ry­ing the dan­ger­ous virus or to have come into phys­i­cal con­tact with hu­mans or ob­jects con­tam­i­nated with Zika. It might sound em­bar­rass­ing to the ath­letes re­turn­ing from the games to their fam­ily or friends, but this pen be­lieves as a health pre­cau­tion par­tic­i­pants in the Olympics should be med­i­cally ex­am­ined for the ben­e­fit of their own health and that of their own na­tion above all else.

Pre­cau­tion should of ne­ces­sity take prece­dence over any so­cial or other, con­sid­er­a­tions in the in­ter­ests of good health for all around the globe.

Mean­while, this pen can­not help but con­jure up the kinds of mea­sures peo­ple are likely to take to pro­tect their fam­i­lies should the re­search done on chick­ens and mos­qui­toes prove ef­fi­ca­cious be­yond any doubt.

You (yes, you) are likely to see fam­i­lies in ar­eas prone to malaria turn­ing their bed­rooms into vir­tual chicken runs to pro­tect their fam­i­lies from mos­quito bites.

Or bet­ter still some fam­i­lies might con­fine chick­ens in coops se­cured to beds or win­dows overnight to ward off the mon­strous, malaria agents for the safety of all in the home.

Or will sci­en­tists har­vest the odour for spray­ing in homes in­stead?

Will the re­ported re­search fi­nally prove a break­through in the re­lent­less search for a fa­tal blow to the so­lar plexus of the anophe­les, or will it evap­o­rate, like a sum­mer night’s dream? That is the ques­tion that re­mains on the lips of many as peo­ple wait for the re­sults of the sci­en­tific re­search to be im­mor­talised in cold print as im­mutable truth.

Dr David Parireny­atwa

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