Monday, September 15, 2014

A Silent Killer vs. A Killer Silence

            You're flying. You're in the air and you're flying. The world is massive, far beyond the scope of your perspective. There are enormous trees and magnificent flowers and indescribable wonder all around you – but you're looking for blood. You sniff the air and that irresistible scent comes toward you. You follow it, hoping that it takes you to that glorious prize. You arrive, and before you stands a mountain of sweet, succulent flesh, as though it were waiting for you to appear. You land; you salivate; you penetrate; and finally, you drink. You engorge with blood until you can't swell any more, and you swiftly detach from your feast without it ever noticing. The blood swims in your gut and you're happy; you know not that the blood was not normal blood, and there are now stowaways in your body. You are unaffected, but the next food you visit will be infected with dengue because of you.
            As humans, it is inherently impossible for us to fathom what goes on in the mind of a mosquito. They could be simple, or they could be thoughtful; they could be malicious, or they could be innocent. We will never be able to know for sure, but it is highly likely that they have very little conception of the good or evil they bring about. However, in our society, we tend to demonize these creatures because they seemingly cause so much destruction. They bite us incessantly until we are red, puffy, swollen, and itchy, and they carry so many diseases that threaten our lives. Dengue, malaria, and West Nile virus all affect millions of people worldwide on a daily basis. We call mosquitoes pests, we call them annoying, we say we hate them, and yet they likely have absolutely no awareness of the harm they cause. They are as innocent as dogs or cats or sloths or most other animals, but their bad reputation is indomitable.
            When I went to the communities surrounding La Selva (La Trinidad and Naranjal), so many aspects of the projects amazed me. The warmth of the people was unfamiliar. The knowledge of dengue and sanitary practices was surprising. The poverty was astounding. And yet, I could not help but think about this peculiar relationship between humans and mosquitoes. Mosquitoes seem like horrible, invisible little creatures that relentlessly pester us and constantly ruin our lives, and yet they are animals as much as dogs are animals. As far as we know, they act on instinct and instinct alone, and yet we treat them as though they make a conscious effort to wreck our day.
            Our activities in these communities focused on knowledge, attitude, self-efficacy, and practices regarding the effective reduction of the incidence of dengue. I found it absolutely fascinating how people treat the disease differently based on their perception of the mosquito. We spoke to one woman, for instance, who could not stop talking about how much she hated mosquitoes. She was one of the few women in the community who consistently gets bitten by mosquitoes despite having lived in the region her entire life. She therefore took all the precautions we outlined for her and knew every practice before we even suggested it. Another woman, on the other hand, expressed very little aversion towards mosquitoes. She was gifted with naturally repellant skin, so she almost never gets bitten; as a result, her home was littered with open containers of standing water and many similar bad practices.
            I learned several main lessons from this experience. First, people view diseases and vectors in very different ways. Second, these differences drastically change the way they treat those factors. And third, these differences need to be ameliorated before real progress against dengue and other contagious diseases can be made. Community-based initiatives are essential, for a community cannot be truly safe from such diseases unless everyone is actively involved in their containment. While the mosquito may be a "silent killer," it is this lack of awareness of a contagious disease that is truly a "killer silence."
This was a truly eye-opening experience that made me question myself and change my worldview. I crave these kinds of opportunities, and I have no doubt that I will carry them with me for the rest of my life.
David M.

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