Health experts have said that the discovery of a new mosquito vector of malaria named Anopheles stephensi should be seen as a threat to efforts to eliminate malaria in the country.
The new mosquito vector was detected in Billiri Local Government Area of Gombe State, Nigeria, where there is a high prevalence of malaria parasites.
The vector was detected in 2021 by a team of scientists at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research in partnership with the National Malaria Elimination Programme, and research scientists from the Gombe State University.
The team of scientists, led by a researcher at NIMR, Dr. Adedapo Adeogun, discovered the vector after careful sequencing.
The discovery has also been confirmed by other global expert agencies including the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control, Atlanta.
Findings show that the Asian malaria mosquito was detected in Africa for the first time in 2012, in the city of Djibouti; but this is the first time the mosquito will be detected in West Africa.
Subsequent investigations have confirmed the presence of the vector species in multiple sites in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan, where one of the latest discoveries happened serendipitously during an urban search for Culicines, according to the WHO.
Experts, however, say that the discovery of Anopheles stephensi is a major potential threat to malaria control and elimination in Nigeria.
This is as the WHO said more recent surveys in Sudan have confirmed the extensive geographical spread of the vector, including observations in districts bordering six other countries without any prior evidence of the species.
Speaking with our correspondent, the lead scientist, Dr. Adeogun said Anopheles stephensi is very difficult to control.
He further said that this very proficient malaria vector is generally referred to as the urban malaria vector because it adapts to virtually any tough environment.
“It can breed in cryptic environments including deep wells, on plants in peoples’ gardens, and in tires, which is foreign to so many other malaria vectors.
“In places where it has been discovered, it has been associated with an increase in malaria cases, especially in urban areas. Since its emergence in the horn of Africa, vector alerts have been issued by the WHO on this invasive species.
While appreciating NIMR and NMEP for the opportunity, Adeogun added that “the implication of this discovery is that malaria vector control in Nigeria has to be stepped up.”
Also speaking with our correspondent, the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, Community Vision Initiative, Dr. Chioma Amajoh said the identification of Anophelines stephensi is a landmark discovery in Nigeria and West Africa.
According to her, Anopheles stephensi was historically considered an Asian malaria vector and has been one of the major drivers of transmission in cities across India, Iran, and Pakistan, as well as the Arabian Peninsula.