Socialist Cuba and mosquitos: humanity calls, Cuba answers
Mosquito-carried disease vectors have plagued humanity for millennia. Mosquitos carry dengue, yellow fever, malaria, West Nile fever, Zika fever, several varieties of encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya and Lymphatic filariasis, as well as Dog heartworm.
Aedes mosquitos transmit dengue fever to cause 96 million symptomatic cases a year, resulting in around 40,000 deaths. Malaria, carried by Anopheline mosquitos, killed 619,000 people in 2021, according to the World Health Organization. (Dec. 8, 2022) Worldwide, malaria-bearing mosquitos caused 247 million cases in 2021, and Africa bore the heaviest tolls with 95% of those cases and 96% of malaria deaths. WHO reports some 80% of all malaria deaths in that region were of children under age five.
Mosquitos have even long impacted human history. In the 2019 book, “The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator,” Timothy Winegard states that malaria goes back at least as far as 2700 BCE in China and 1700 BCE in Sumeria. Hippocrates wrote about summer malaria epidemics; 94 BCE Chinese historian Sima Qian reported malarial deaths of young males south of the Yangtze. Hannibal’s forces and Genghis Khan’s armies were decimated by mosquito-carried disease. (Winegard, 2019)
According to Winegard, “In the 3rd century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that [then] emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity” to world prominence. And Winegard relates that with the arrival of the conquistadors and Cristobal Colon, the previously uninfected mosquitos in the Caribbean Islands became carriers of diseases, and 5 million to 8 million Tainos died from vectors carried by the then-infected mosquitos and the mammals brought there by Spain.
Around 95 million Indigenous peoples of the American continents are estimated to have died from introduced diseases following 1492.
By colonization and war, humanity has historically created fresh environments for mosquito populations to invade and explode within. However, campaigns to eradicate vector-ridden mosquito populations, throughout the 20th century and since, have been based on pesticides.
Meanwhile, our biosphere is experiencing the Sixth Extinction, driven by human activity, due to climate change, pesticides, unsustainable use and degradation of Earth’s lands and waters, plastic pollution, use of fossil fuels and petrochemicals. Some 40% of all land has been converted to agriculture use, causing massive deforestation; plus Big Agriculture uses up to 70% of freshwaters.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, “A mass extinction is a short period of geological time in which a high percentage of biodiversity, or distinct species — bacteria, fungi, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates — dies out. . . . note that, in geological time, a ‘short’ period can span thousands or even millions of years. The planet has experienced five previous mass extinction events, the last one occurring 65.5 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs from existence. Experts now believe we’re in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.”
In 2020, the United Nations issued a report estimating over 1 million species were in danger of extinction during the next few decades. Currently, the observed species extinction rate is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than long-term natural species extinction rates.
As a key part of the biosphere and food chain, whether as pollinators or as food for birds and other life-forms, insects are dangerously affected. The extinction rate of insects is now eight times higher than the observed extinction rates of mammals, birds or reptiles. (tinyurl.com/yc3u79xh) From dragonflies to beetles to butterflies, over 31% of insect species were considered threatened by 2019, with 10% going extinct locally in Europe and North America.
According to the U.N. 2019 Sustainable Development blog: “The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. The numbers of invasive alien species per country have risen by about 70% since 1970 across the 21 countries with detailed records. The distributions of almost half (47%) of land-based flightless mammals, for example, and almost a quarter of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by climate change.”
But while even greater numbers of insect species are in decline, mosquito populations are spreading, due to global warming.
Global warming and disease
The Stanford University Earth Matters magazine 2019 report, “How does climate change affect disease?” stated: “As the globe warms, mosquitos will roam beyond their current habitats, shifting the burden of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile virus.” (tinyurl.com/yadzvbxv)
In a Feb. 14 article, “Climate change may make it easier for mosquitos to spread malaria,” the Washington Post reported that top U.N. climate scientists estimate the most deadly impacts of global warming won’t come from weather disasters but from disease. (tinyurl.com/546hth9p) Researchers at Georgetown University found that mosquito populations have shifted away from the equator, north and south, about 2.9 miles (4.7 km) a year on average over the last 100 years. Mosquitos have spread into new parts of Africa; in Hawai’i mosquitos have now infected a native songbird with an avian malaria, threatening another species extinction.
And climate change has increased the risk of nearly 60% of all known infectious diseases, from mosquito- and tick-borne vectors to fungal infections, according to a report in the journal “Nature Climate Change.” (yaleclimateconnections.org, Feb. 22)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states its approach to global “malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases” is “developing tools and approaches to better prevent, detect and control mosquito-borne diseases, to mitigating drug and insecticide resistance,” in other words, relying on pesticides, spreading poisons through the habitats.
Capitalism’s solution: poisons
From its inception, in order to attempt control of mosquito and insect populations, capitalism has produced poisons. The view of the corporate world is that they have eradicated malaria from most, though not all, temperate climates, with DDT and other organochlorine and organophosphate mosquito-control insecticides. However, the use of pesticides left mosquitos endemic in the tropical and subtropical zones of Africa, Asia and the Americas and has damaged the biosphere in uncounted ways.
Imperialist wars for neocolonies and fossil fuel resources have poisoned the Earth — from the U.S. military’s dropping 13 million gallons of Agent Orange, along with several other defoliants, to decimate the triple-canopy rainforest in Vietnam to polluting areas of Iraq and the former Yugoslavia with depleted uranium ammunition.
Conditions on Earth for the biosphere and for the health of humanity itself continue to worsen in a society based on profits. Clearly, there is no solution to the problems of mosquito-borne disease, global warming and the Sixth Extinction under capitalism. But another way is possible.
Cuba shows another way
Since Cuba’s 1959 revolution, the U.S. has constantly threatened this small island and has exercised economic blockade of the Cuban people. The U.S. was defeated when it invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón), and the imperialist colossus tried multiple times without success to assassinate Fidel Castro. The U.S. even went so far as to introduce swine flu in a 1990s bioterrorism attack. And more recently in 2019, then-President Donald Trump increased the brutality of the economic sanctions with Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
But Cuba has consistently created their own industries and facilities in response to the blockade, from organic agriculture to medicines and health care. All Cuba agriculture is organic; the U.S. blockade long ago prevented any corporate export there of pesticides. Cuba makes its own medicines and veterinary medicines and even its beauty products, all from natural sources.
In a March 2020 talk to the National Network on Cuba, University of Glasgow lecturer Dr. Helen Yaffe stated that Cuba initiated biotechnology five years before the first capitalist biotech company was established. Dr. Yaffe explained that Cuban biotech was nonprofit — based on collaboration, not competition — and is tied to their education system.
“Cuba bet on biotechnology very early, opening the first research manufacturing facility in the country in 1981,” said Agustín Lage, founder and former director of BioCubaFarma’s Center of Molecular Immunology. “Those early steps set the stage for the sector’s current performance in Cuba — supplying over 60% of the country’s essential medicines list, exporting to more than 40 countries, registering innovative products, showing tangible impact in public health and owning more than 2,000 patent filings worldwide.” (tinyurl.com/546hth9p)
Cuba’s answer to mosquito-borne disease
While in Cuba with the 50th Venceremos Brigade in August 2019, in a visit to Labiofam, one of Cuba’s socialist state-owned biotech enterprises, this writer learned how Cuban scientists have developed a wide range of needed products for human and animal and agricultural use, from veterinary vaccines to beauty creams. Labiofam, created in 1977, produces an anti-cancer homeopathic medicine, Vidatox, made from the venom of the blue scorpion (scientists take the scorpions’ venom and release them without injury), as well as 98% of Cuba’s needed veterinary medications and some human food products.
Natural product to prevent mosquito reproduction
And Labiofam scientists invented a product to stop mosquito populations reproducing — BactiVec®, a biolarvicide made with spores and crystals of a specific bacteria. This natural biolarvicide is made to be spread across mosquito-breeding areas; when ingested, it paralyzes the mosquitos’ intestinal walls within 24 to 48 hours. BactiVec kills the larvae.
Labiofam works with facilities in China, Vietnam, Tanzania and Bolivia to create this and other products for the Global South. As a socialist state-owned enterprise, it engages in collaborative trade, where Cuba exports its products in return for needed raw materials — the Cuban products to control mosquito and rat populations are especially desired. The Dominican Republic bought 30 tons of Labiofam’s rat-control product.
While WHO reports that Africa has 96% of malarial deaths, Cuba’s BactiVec has been found to be very effective and is in high demand in tropical areas of Africa.
Due to the blockade against Cuba, people in the U.S. cannot legally get Cuban beneficial products. The ruling class severely restricts travel to Cuba to prevent people here from learning what is possible under socialism.
Another world is possible — medicine and science for human health and the health of Earth’s biosphere are needed. End the blockade on Cuba!