How the humble mosquito makes ordinary people millionaires

If the mosquito disappears, the economy of entire countries will be ruined, Wall Street stocks will come crashing down, pharma companies will go bankrupt.

Maneka Gandhi August 08, 2016 18:42:37 IST
How the humble mosquito makes ordinary people millionaires

When you spend a weekend watching Hollywood horror movies based on mosquitoes – Mosquito Man, Skeeter, How a Mosquito Operates, Sucker (the story of a suicidal man transformed into a vengeful mosquito) and Mosquito, then you realise how important the mosquito is to the economy. Imagine the number of people employed by these movies - actors, directors, script writers, animators, stuntmen, makeup artists, spot boys, distributors, popcorn sellers and ushers.

The mosquito is the largest employer in the world. It makes millionaires out of ordinary people. Even I have benefitted by getting space in a publication for this article. And so do at least 10,000 people who blog about the mosquito regularly. So do junior newspaper reporters who, running out of ideas, write about the “new breakthrough” in the battle against malaria. And the columnists who give advice on how to protect yourself from mosquito bites (wear yellow, don’t wear yellow), the newsprint makers who sell so much more paper to accommodate the news and printers who print out miles of statistics on the mosquito every year.

Look at the gadgets. The Good Knight owner who had so much money that he put it into Malayali films in which elephants sat on chairs and smoked cigarettes (I met him when the film got banned!). There are strange blue light gadgets that lie in offices and consume electricity while waiting for mosquitoes to fly into them. There are things that plug in to the wall near your bed, coils and sticks, and fogging machines that patrol through your streets poisoning man and mosquito alike. Weed killers, lawn mowers, concrete layers, pond and marsh drainers. Manufacturers, labour, staff, distributors, shareholders – everyone makes money.

How the humble mosquito makes ordinary people millionaires

Representational image. Reuters

Then come the insect repellent creams like Odomos and at least a hundred different “ayurvedic” anti-mosquito pastes, creams and sprays. “Natural alternative” skin patches made with Vitamin B. If each company employs 100 people plus the distributors, how many would that be?

The ‘machhardanis’ that we all grew up with, the tents saturated with anti-mosquito chemicals that are sold on the roadsides. The cloth makers should give the creature a big thank you for the long sleeves that everyone in a mosquito area wears: more cloth, more money. Perfumers have found that perfume repels more mosquitoes than Deet, so that is the new selling gimmick.
Now the heavy hitters: the chemical companies that have destroyed so much of the world while trying to kill the mosquito; all the companies that manufacture DDT which, despite being banned, is used everywhere. Larvicides are chemicals, like methoprene, pyriproxyfen, applied to water to control mosquito larvae. Adulticides like malathion, permethrin, resmethrin, sumithrin, scourge and anvil are used in sprays to control adult mosquitoes. Synergists like piperonyl butoxide and MGK-264 are not toxic to the mosquitoes themselves, but make adulticides more effective. All these chemicals are dangerous – pyrethroids are neurotoxins and have been linked with liver and thyroid failure. All the chemicals listed above cause human cancer. So, thousands of doctors are given jobs and hospitals flourish – all because of the mosquito.

Pyrethroids are highly toxic to fish, crustaceans and bees; so more doctors get jobs when you eat poisoned fish and crabs. And once the bees all disappear, I am sure thousands of people will have to be employed to manually pollinate the fruit trees so that we can continue to eat. Please include the foggers, sprayers who are employed by the mosquito. And the people who make the thousands of cans that carry the chemicals. Because fogging is so dangerous, the market has created respirator masks with replaceable cartridges. So lots of more people have been given jobs to protect you from things that are invented to kill mosquitoes. Imagine the legions of advertising agencies and sales representatives.

Government municipal agencies should also thank the mosquito, because they can pretend to buy chemicals to fog the towns and divert the money. Many daughters have been married off and many sons of middle level bureaucrats have gone abroad to study on mosquito money.

Have I included all the thousands of people and scientists who have written reports on how these chemicals are extremely toxic? After all they get grants to do study after study proving the same thing – that none of these pesticides have any effect on mosquitoes but they are harmful to human health. None of what they say has any effect on the pesticide industry or on government regulations. But all of them, bless the mosquito, get lifelong research jobs. Millions of scientists research the mosquito all day, every day: whether they can sterilise it, whether it can spread Aids, whether crossing one species with another will make them ineffective, whether mosquito genetics can be modified to make them flightless, whether transgenic bacteria which eat mosquito guts can be created, etc. Inventors of non oily films across water. Researchers who have found a chemical that disables the part of the insect's brain that smells humans. Others who find a way to switch off the mosquitoes’ heat detection ability. Vaccine makers who experiment on thousands of children in Africa without any luck. Scientists who work on introducing scorpion venom into mosquito genes. Pills which, when swallowed, kill any biting mosquito. Ovi traps to attract egg laying females. Recently a British company, called Oxitec, opened a genetically modified mosquito farm in Brazil to produce millions of GM insects which will (hopefully) battle the other mosquitoes.

How many mad scientists, during the Second World War, escaped war duty in Germany and Japan by working in laboratories to create malarial mosquitoes and their carriers? The Germans tried to halt the march of the Allies into Italy by introducing millions of larvae of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. British and American soldiers survived due to quinine. The Italian population didn’t – malaria cases rose from 1,217 in 1943 to 54,929 in 1944.

Let us not forget the people employed directly by mosquitoes. Mosquito inspectors who come regularly to inspect my pond. All the thousands of people who work in public health institutions and sanitation companies around the world. All the mosquito “biologists”.

This is a partial list of the current vacancies advertised by mosquito control agencies in the US:
Labourers to operate tractors, lawnmowers, weed-eaters and other equipment in mosquito spraying programmes, Mosquito Control Division Manager to oversee budget, planning, operations, research, and personnel, Manager Mosquito Abatement, Programme Extension Agent Mosquito Management Services, Vector Ecologist, Operations Supervisor Mosquito Services, Land Stewardship Seasonal Fellow in Controlling Invasive Species, Research Assistant lymphatic filariasis, Manager Public Health Community Programme, Research Entomologist, Research Geneticist, Information Technology Intern, Biologist / Entomologist / Toxicologist, Industrial Hygienist / Chemist, Programme Assistant Zika, Seasonal Assistant Vector Control, Senior Environmental Health Inspector, Zika Technical Advisor, Environmental Health Specialist (Full-time and Part-time), Executive Assistant to Public Health Officer, Senior Environmental Health Inspector, Pest Control Specialist, Vector Control Inspector, Education Coordinator Vector Control, Integrated Vector Management Compliance Officer, Urban Water Compliance Planner, Entomologist, Communications and Knowledge Officer Tropical Health, Seasonal Vector Technician, Street Maintenance Crew Leader, Administrative Assistant Mosquito & Vector Control, Public Health Sanitarian, Environmental Health Director, Mobile Application Developer.

We employ doctors, nurses, ward boys, hospital management and ambulances for those afflicted with malaria, encephalitis, zika, dengue, West Nile virus and chikungunya. The glucose manufacturers, the syringe guys, the medicines, the quinine manufacturers. The pharma companies earn no less than a billion dollars every year from mosquito bites. And they employ millions of people.

Have we left out the aquaculture industry? The fish bred for human eating are fed millions of mosquito larvae which are specially grown for the industry. I had to buy Gambusia fish for my pond so that larvae are eaten – imagine how many fish are bred for this purpose and released into still waters.

In all this we forget the main economic importance of mosquitoes. They are eaten by other insects which, in turn, are eaten by birds and animals who are either eaten by us or used by us for our own well being. For instance mosquitoes in the Arctic regions decide how the caribou move to avoid the mosquito swarms. The local hunters follow these paths and get their food. Mosquitoes eat aphids which otherwise would destroy all our plants. They serve as pollinators as well. Mosquitoes influence the development of agricultural areas by preventing or limiting the use of infested territory. Dredgers, swamp fillers, tree cutters – all owe their living to mosquitoes.

They decide whether a party is held outside or inside, whether windows are open or not. The air conditioning industry owes a lot to these pests.

Their final employment is, of course, the people who bury and cremate humans. Mosquitoes have killed more than half the people who ever lived. More people have died in wars from malaria than from bullets and bombs. Even now, mosquitoes cause anywhere from one million to 2.7 million deaths each year. Imagine the employment of thousands of grave diggers and priests, crematoria staff, professional mourners, hearses, white sheet sellers and florists.

The only thing that hasn’t happened is mosquitoes as human food. But even that will happen. Entomophagy (eating insects by people) has been recommended by the UN as the only way to save the planet.

Could the mosquito be God? If it disappears, so do the jobs of at least 150 million people. The economy of entire countries will be ruined, Wall Street stocks will come crashing down, pharma companies will go bankrupt. The population will double within a year and food will run out. People will come onto the streets and riots will ensue.

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