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The ‘lifecycle’ of human beings: A call to explore vector-borne diseases from an ecosystem perspective
Background: Dengue virus, an Aedes mosquito-borne flavivirus, is associated with close to 400 million reported infections per annum worldwide. Reduction of dengue virus transmission depends entirely on limiting Aedes breeding or preventing adult female contact with humans. Currently, the World Health Organization promotes the strategic approach of integrated vector management in order to optimise resources for mosquito control. Main text: Neglected tropical disease researchers focus on geographical zones where the incidence of clinical cases, and prevalence of vectors, are high. In combatting those infectious diseases such as dengue that affect mainly low-income populations in developing regions, a mosquito-centric approach is frequently adopted. This prioritises environmental factors that facilitate or impede the lifecycle progression of the vector. Climatic variables (such as rainfall and wind speed) that impact the vector’s lifecycle either causally or by happenstance also affect the human host’s ‘lifecycle’, but in very different ways. The socioeconomic impacts of the same variables that influence vector control impact host vulnerability but at different points in the human lifecycle to those of the vector. Here, we argue that the vulnerability of the vector and that of the host interact in complex and unpredictable ways that are characteristic of (complex and intransigent) ‘wicked problems’. Moreover, they are treated by public health programs in ways that may ignore this complexity. This opinion draws on recent evidence showing that the best climate predictors of the scale of dengue outbreaks in Bangladesh cannot be explained through a simple vector-to-host causal model. Conclusions: In mapping causal pathways for vector-borne diseases this article makes a case to elevate the lifecycle of the human host to a level closer in equivalence to that of the vector. Here, we suggest value may be gained from transferring Rittel and Webber’s concept of a wicked (social) problem to dengue, malaria and other mosquito-transmitted public health concerns. This would take a ‘problem definition’ rather than a ‘solution-finding’ approach, particularly when considering problems in which climate impacts simultaneously on human and vector vulnerability.