Mosquitoes management

Between environmental and health issues

by Cécilia Claeys (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 208 Pages
Series: EcoPolis, Volume 31


This edited volume focuses on contemporary developments in mosquito control policies. It is premised on the idea that, in view of the social and ecological changes of recent decades, effective management of vector mosquitoes calls for a break with the old North/South, environment/health dualisms. Increasing urbanization and climate change encourage the proliferation of vector mosquitoes and expand their range of distribution. Globalization and the accelerated flow of human beings, insect vectors and viruses are increasing epidemic risks.
In the North, populations are now exposed to emerging or re-emerging epidemic risks (dengue fever, chikungunya, zika, malaria, etc.). However, comfort-based mosquito control techniques designed predominantly to reduce a nuisance have proven ineffective against vector mosquitoes. In the South, social acceptance of large-scale insecticide spraying is waning. Ecological concerns are voiced with growing insistence, denouncing a cure that can be worse than the disease. Reliance on chemical control appears even less desirable as its effectiveness declines due to increasing insecticide resistance among mosquitoes. Meanwhile, genetic engineering is still in the trial and error phase and raises new ethical questions.
The changes studied here are socio-environmental. To understand them, this volume proposes a dialogue between sociology, geography, entomology, epidemiology and ecology based on several study areas in Africa, the Indian Ocean, America and Europe. These analyses show that the relationships between human societies and mosquitoes are more deeply enmeshed than ever, as if caught in a duel that is still all too often fatal.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table des matières
  • Introduction (Cécilia Claeys)
  • Vector-Borne Diseases and human societies: some examples of relationships, evolutions and challenges (Florence Fouque)
  • Social dimensions factored into mosquito-borne diseases, their prevention and control. From a global perspective to the Zika case in Latin America (Mariam Otmani del Barrio)
  • Shifting socio-ecologies of dengue fever in the United States: Lessons from Florida, Texas, and Arizona (Melinda Butterworth)
  • Climate change and Malaria in Burkina Faso (Eric Diboulo)
  • Spreading mosquitoes: a media analysis of Italian national newspaper coverage of mosquito-borne diseases and related interventions (Paolo Giardullo)
  • Comfort-based mosquito control and vector control in the context of socio-environmental change: French experience on both sides of the Atlantic (Cécilia Claeys)
  • The chikungunya outbreak in Reunion: epidemic or environmental crisis? (Marie Thiann-Bo Morel)
  • Gardens, pesticides and mosquito-borne diseases: an interdisciplinary comparison between mainland France and the French Antilles (Cécilia Claeys / Valérie Bertaudière-Montes / Christine Robles / Magali Deschamps-Cottin / Julie Cardi)
  • Synthetic Biology and Malaria Control: Navigating between Biology and Social Science (Christophe Boëte)
  • Series index

← 8 | 9 →


Cécilia CLAEYS

Associate Professor, Aix-Marseille University, LPED (Laboratory Population Environment and Development) UMR 151 AMU-IRD

According to the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets (updated, October 2017)), mosquitoes are responsible for roughly 750,000 deaths worldwide each year (60% from malaria). Four hundred years BC, Hippocrates described the symptoms of malaria, and the anti-malarial properties of quinine have been known to the Western world since the late 16th century when it was brought back from Latin America by Jesuits who quickly began to commercialize the medicine. But it was not until 1870 that Cuban researcher Carlos Finlay first hypothesized that the yellow fever virus was transmitted by mosquitoes – a hypothesis that was confirmed a decade later. Then came the research of Scotsman Patrick Manson, of Ronald Ross, a Britain born in India (winner of the Nobel Prize in 1902), and of Frenchman Alphonse Laveran (Nobel Prize in 1907) describing how mosquitoes vector different diseases. On the heels of this medical research, a vaccine against yellow fever was developed in the 1930s. While not perfect, vaccination has allowed yellow fever epidemics to be controlled. There is however still no vaccination against malaria, chikungunya or Zika virus, and the dengue vaccination is in its infancy. Moreover, the synthetic antimalarial drugs that have replaced quinine since the 1940s now face parasite resistance. The limited success of prophylaxis in the past and still today means that vector control (VC) remains the main prevention strategy, at times alongside more or less effective curative treatments.

In countries in the South, vector-borne diseases are still a heavy burden on the population and vector control is a cornerstone of prevention strategies. And yet, the implementation of control measures is ← 9 | 10 → often confronted with the silent nature of most of these diseases. A large majority of people infected by mosquitoes that vector pathogens (viruses, parasites, bacteria, rickettsia, helminths) may not have any symptoms at all. In the least developed countries of the South, many sick people never consult a physician. And since the first symptoms of all these diseases are flu-like, differential diagnosis is difficult without complex bioanalysis. In countries in the North, on the other hand, health issues related to mosquitoes disappeared in the mid-20th century alongside overall improvements in living conditions and public health, and mosquito management has since shifted towards ensuring the comfort of populations and tourism-related concerns. Much emphasis has been placed on the widespread development of insecticides, with funding from both public authorities and private actors.

Yet the combined effects of globalization, urbanization and climate change have begun to undermine the North-South divide in terms of the threat posed by mosquitoes (nuisance vs. human health) and the respective responses they receive (massive eradication vs. targeted VC). More frequent human travel and the increased circulation of goods have encouraged the transportation of mosquitoes and pathogens from one continent to another, while climate change and urbanization have facilitated their implantation in new territories (Hawley, 1988; Paupy et al., 2009). Such global changes are not only transforming distribution ranges, they are also changing the genetic makeup of vectors (greater vector competence) and pathogens (greater virulence). This is the case, for example, with genotypic selection in the North-American West-Nile virus which has become more virulent for humans. In Africa, the M molecular form of A. Gambiae (a malaria vector) has adapted to urban pollution, thus making it more effective at spreading malaria in urban areas. Finally, we have also witnessed the selection and emergence of a new genotypal form of chikungunya better able to replicate when associated with Ae. Albopictus.

Most research into mosquitoes – particularly in the social sciences and humanities – has tended to embrace the North-South geographic opposition in its representations of vector-based risk. Until the early 2000s, there was a clear distinction between environmental- and health-related issues. Given that mosquitoes were no longer a health threat in the North, research tended to focus mainly on the environmental controversies surrounding comfort-based mosquito control. Conversely, in the South, research in the social sciences into the different diseases ← 10 | 11 → transmitted to humans by mosquitoes was mainly conducted in the context of the social sciences of health and the fieldwork sites selected tended to be large, malaria-endemic areas. And yet it has now become necessary to challenge this dichotomy between environmental concerns in the North and health concerns in the South – which is exactly what this volume aims to do.

Given that both health and the environment sit at the crossroads of nature, culture and technological and organizational evolution (Mougenot, 1998), it is essential to compare them. Already in his time, Hippocrates wrote in On Airs, Waters and Places, “Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly, should […] consider the seasons of the year, […] then the winds, […] the qualities of the waters, […] the ground, […] and the mode in which the inhabitants live” (Cicolella, 2010, quoting Hippocrates, The Genuine Works of Hippocrates. Edited by Charles Darwin Adams. New York Dover, 1868, p. 20). Beginning in the 19th century, modern medicine and the development of public statistics made it possible to measure the connection between human health and the quality of an environment (Fassin, 2009). The environment as a notion did not yet have its contemporary meaning, however, and was associated with “that which surrounds us”, without distinction between anthropic and natural milieus and the social sphere. And yet historian Jean-Baptiste Fressoz (2013) has noted that during the 19th century, scholarly discourse tinged with hygienism for example tried to “deeply reshape medical etiology” in favour of a moralizing register. Deemed immoral, the behaviour of the sick was incriminated – be it tuberculosis among the urban European proletariat or yellow fever in slaves and their offspring in the colonies. This was a convenient way to blame the victims and elude the underlying causes which, ultimately, were the capitalist and slave-driven exploitation of poor populations concentrated in insalubrious housing in the zones most exposed to pollution and disease.

The emergence – or rather the re-emergence – of the health/environment debate is relatively recent (Carricaburu, 2005; King and Crews, 2013). In 1962, naturalist Rachel Carson condemned the effects of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) on ecosystems and human health in her book The Silent Spring which went on to symbolize the rise of contemporary Western ecological awareness. Regarding the effects of DDT in particular, the mediatisation of Carson’s book helped expose a latent controversy (Gunter and Harris, 1998). The insecticidal properties of DDT were discovered by Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller in ← 11 | 12 → 1938 (awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948) and DDT was produced on an industrial scale to enable its widespread use starting in 1942. The American army used it abundantly for mosquito control in the Mediterranean and tropical regions during its post-war “liberation” campaigns. From 1950 to 1969, the World Health Organization recommended using DDT in its malaria prevention campaigns. DDT was also massively used in the agricultural sector and as a domestic insecticide. In 1972, the United States Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT on American soil, but not its foreign exportation. In 2004, the Stockholm Convention added the substance to its list of persistent organic pollutants. DDT nevertheless remains in use in many countries in the South, fuelling recurring socio-technical controversies that pit human health against ecological concerns (Bouwman et al., 2011). In the North, DDT has gradually been replaced with more selective and less residual molecules, but these are nevertheless potent products that are not neutral on ecosystems. Indeed, vector control on all continents involves a toxic intrusion into the ecosystem and, despite this, the insecticides used are not efficient at sustainably eradicating mosquitoes. It has recently been shown that mosquitoes are extremely good at fabricating biodegradation enzymes capable of resisting control treatments. Moreover, even when organophosphorus (i.e., less polluting) insecticides are used, mosquito control campaigns may: i) reduce the diversity of mosquitoes by eliminating some of the natural competitors of the mosquitoes that vector human diseases, and ii) destroy insects that are useful to mankind, such as pollinating bees. In both the North and South, public authorities and populations are now confronted with health problems and nuisances against which vector control has rarely been as efficient as hoped – and whose risks for the ecosystem and human health are increasingly obvious.

The difficult struggle against vector mosquitoes and its unwitting effects are a potent reminder of the interdependence between human health and the health of ecosystems. “Oversight” of this detail goes hand in hand with historical blindness to what are now called environmental inequalities – i.e., the compounding of social vulnerabilities experienced by certain populations and their exposure to degraded or at-risk environments. It was not until the emergence of a theoretical school and activist movement surrounding environmental justice that this issue was explicitly placed on the Western political agenda (Taylor, 2000; Gislason, 2013). The notion of environmental justice broadens the scope of social justice. To begin, it underscores that the search for ← 12 | 13 → social justice must include a decrease in social inequalities in terms of health AND exposure to environmental risks. Secondly, it argues that social justice and environmental protection can be complementary. The issue of vector mosquitoes fully engages with this type of thinking. It has repeatedly been shown that the most socially vulnerable populations are most affected by exposure to vector mosquitoes. Moreover, the difficult search for alternatives to the leading phytosanitary treatments used in vector control today puts to the test the potential for complementarity between the protection of human health and that of ecosystems (Mieulet and Claeys, 2016; Claeys and Mieulet, 2017).

This book takes an international approach to the interactions, interdependences and tensions between health, environmental and social issues surrounding mosquito control. Scientists and social scientists specialized in environmental issues examine (re-)emerging health issues and engage with specialists on health-related topics who are also interested in exploring growing environmental concerns.

In the first chapter, medical entomologist Florence Fouque provides an overview of her scientific career from the perspective of interactions between health, the environment and society. A specialist on vector mosquitoes, she underscores the extent to which our understanding of vector-borne diseases (VBDs) needs to consider the social and environmental factors at play. The chapter uses concrete examples to measure the success of such approaches and assesses the challenges ahead. The author places particular attention on ethical considerations in terms of scientific practice and operational actions in fighting VBDs.

In the second chapter, Mariam Otmani del Barrio examines the processes behind the compounding of health, environmental and social vulnerabilities regarding the exposure of populations to VBDs. She offers an overview of the global situation and points out how a complex intertwining of socio-economic, cultural and demographic vulnerabilities aggravates health risks. Turning the focus more specifically to South America, Otmani del Barrio develops a theory regarding the multiple vulnerability of women during the recent Zika epidemic.

The third chapter addresses the re-emergence of dengue in the United States (US). After a presentation of the general context in the US regarding mosquito-borne disease and control, Melinda Butterworth compares three regions: southern Florida, southern Texas and southern Arizona. This spatialized comparison makes it possible to identify the ← 13 | 14 → influence of socio-ecological factors that worsen or reduce the risk of vector-borne disease. The chapter really emphasizes the dynamic nature of socio-environmental processes related to VBDs which evolve over time and across space. This leads the author to underscore the importance of prevention policies that are reactive and able to adapt to ongoing socio-environmental changes.

The fourth chapter addresses the impact of climate change on the malaria transmission cycle. The analysis is focused on Burkina Faso. Using quantitative studies and modelling, Eric Diboulo shows how the most socially vulnerable populations tend to be the first affected by higher malaria transmission rates caused by climate change. He argues that it is important for malaria control policies to consider different climate change scenarios and emphasizes the particular vulnerability of sub-Saharan populations.

The fifth chapter looks at Italy, the first European country to be affected by a dengue epidemic in the early 2000s. Paolo Giardullo analyses Italian national media coverage of this emerging issue in environmental health. He notes the relative invisibility of the issue at the national level during the decade following the first epidemic in the Emilia Romagna region. Paradoxically, it was not until 2016 and the Zika crisis in Brazil in the lead-up to the Olympic Games that the Italian media clearly embraced the issue.

The sixth chapter presents a socio-history of mosquito control policies in mainland France and the French Antilles. Cécilia Claeys provides a postcolonial interpretation of the shift from vector control to comfort-based mosquito control. The chapter examines the decolonialization process and the greening of mosquito control policies on both sides of the Atlantic, and highlights the challenge in conceiving a socio-environmental and health-based community of destiny between the mainly white population of mainland France and the multi-ethnic overseas population comprised in part of the descendants of slaves.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Warsawa, Wien, 2019, 208 p., 16 ill. b/w, 5 tab. b/w

Biographical notes

Cécilia Claeys (Volume editor)

Cécilia Claeys is an environmental and risk sociologist and associate professor at Aix-Marseille University – LPED. She has conducted sociological and interdisciplinary research on mosquito management for more than twenty years, contributing to a better link between environmental and health research.


Title: Mosquitoes management