New WHO policy brief - keeping the vector out

14.11.17

The World Health Organization Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health has released a new policy brief on housing improvements for insect-borne disease control and sustainable development.  The report recognises the importance of housing and living conditions as a social determinant of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue and calls for improvement of housing and the peri-domestic environment to prevent these diseases.

The movements of populations, the rapid urbanization of the 21st century and the economic development experienced in many low- and middle-income countries are drivers for the construction of new housing and the planning and redesign of urban settlements.  At the same time, inequities in power and wealth fuel the growth of slums and informal settlements.

The principle of “building the vector out” is at the core of effective housing interventions to prevent vector-borne diseases.  For example, the entry of disease-transmitting vectors into human habitation can be effectively prevented by screening windows, doors and eaves of houses, by fitting ceilings, and by reducing the vectors’ indoor hiding and breeding places, such as cracks and crevices in walls, floors and roofs.  In addition, reducing breeding sources around houses can limit vector abundance – by removing sources of stagnating water (e.g. gutters and drains) and minimizing access to water storage containers through the use of covers or screens. Key to this is a reliable supply of piped water, adequate sanitary facilities, rainwater disposal and services to safely manage faecal wastes.

These interventions may help reduce illness and death and thereby promote economic growth, well-being and the reduction of poverty. Creating sustainable vector-proof habitats and establishing a comprehensive management plan can help reduce the dependence on insecticides and bring about sustainable change – vital to prevent the re-introduction into disease-free areas.

There are additional benefits of improving housing and living conditions.  For example, a reliable and safe piped water supply can support the reduction of waterborne diseases and improving housing can also create jobs and stimulate investment.