Public Health Researchers Compare Mosquito Control Strategies in Florida and Ecuador

An international team of researchers, including three investigators from the Miller School’s Department of Public Health Sciences, has compared differing mosquito control programs in St. Johns County, Florida, and Guayas, Ecuador. Their findings demonstrate how two countries can develop effective vector control practices, despite their cultural and economic differences.

The results have been published in an article, “Vector Control Programs in Saint Johns County, Florida and Guayas, Ecuador: Successes and Barriers to Integrated Vector Management,” in BioMed Central Public Health, an open-access online journal.

The research was inspired by the World Health Organization’s proposal of a universal concept of integrated vector management – a “rational decision-making process for the optimal use of resources in the management of vector populations, so as to reduce or interrupt transmission of vector-borne diseases.” To assist in the investigation, the article’s lead author, Diana Naranjo, a native of Ecuador who is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Public Health Sciences, tapped into contacts from her medical school education there.

“Ecuador is a leader in preventing malaria, and they have gotten levels down to fewer than 200 cases per year through a successful control program, even though it is a developing country,” she said. “We wanted to study the similarities and differences between Ecuador and the U.S., and reveal how people in public health in countries other than the U.S. develop their own ways to apply vector management.”

Naranjo, joined by Miller School investigators Whitney A. Qualls, Ph.D., M.S., senior research associate in the Department of Public Health Sciences, and John C. Beier, Sc.D., professor of public health sciences and Director of the Division of Environment and Public Health, conducted a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – analysis on both regions’ mosquito control programs.

Organizationally, the Florida mosquito control program (MCP) is a tax-based district able to make decisions independently from county government officials, with the oversight of an elected board of commissioners. The Guayas program is directed by the Ecuadorian government and assessed by non-governmental organizations, such as the World Health Organization.

Operationally, the Florida MCP conducts entomological surveillance, and the Ecuadorian MCP focuses on epidemiological monitoring of human disease cases.

“The program in St. Johns County is more scientifically based because they have comparatively more funding,” Naranjo said. “The strategy there involves controlling the levels of mosquitoes. They have sentinel chickens that live in the areas where the mosquitoes are, and their blood is tested every week. If disease is found, they can ramp up prevention activities, reducing the chance of humans being bitten.

“In Ecuador, they can’t do the same type of testing to provide an early warning. Instead, they capitalize on people and get the whole community to help them control diseases. Workers go from house to house teaching people about disease transmission and ask them to report any illness in their neighborhood. It’s a system based on human contact and mutual trust.”

The SWOT analysis demonstrated that community participation and education programs were strengths of both MCPs. Weaknesses included relative limitations in budgets and technical capabilities. Additional funding and partnerships with outside organizations offered opportunities. Threats included political constraints, and changes in the social and ecological environment that affect mosquito densities and control efforts.

The authors’ recommendations include increasing surveillance systems and community participation, maximizing resources through the use of applied research and protecting the environment by using low-risk pesticides. Inter-sectorial and multidisciplinary interventions were seen as critical to improving public health.

“The lesson Florida can teach to other areas is that the cost of human disease is higher than the cost of the research that helps you learn how to prevent it,” said Naranjo. “Research is an investment that pays you back.”

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