“Tofa Mumu” —Eradicating elephantiasis

A University of Kentucky mosquito project, ‘Tofa Mumu’ is taking place on the island of Aunu’u at this time, with certain questions being asked in the hope that the answers— in the end— will help eradicate the disease filiariasis, also known as “elephantiasis”.

According to literature about the project, filiariasis is a “global disease spread by mosquitoes that affects only humans. It’s found in 80 countries including American Samoa. As of 2006, 120 million people had the disease, 40 million were incapacitated, and 1.2 billion were at risk.”

How far can Aunu’u mosquitos fly, how long do they live, under what conditions do they survive best? The study hopes to find the answers to these and other questions with several controlled studies on the island of Aunu’u.

According to Dr. Amanda Koppel from the University of Kentucky, in a recent experiment, the project released into tents about 200 male Aedes polynesiensis mosquitos that were captured in Aunu’u. One day later, they returned and removed the mosquitos to estimate their survivorship.

“This test experiment will be repeated several times to identify the most conducive locations, where the mosquitos thrive best,” said Dr. Koppel.

Announcing this during a recent meeting of community leaders at the Samoan Affairs office, the information officer for the Kentucky Mosquito Project, Dr. Chike Anyaegbunam said, “the next step would be the release of Aunu’u male mosquitos on the island without the tents and then recapture them to answer some of the research questions”.

“Just like we had permission from the leaders of Aunu’u to do the tent experiments, we also need their permission to implement the controlled open release of wild Aunu’u male mosquitos on the island. Male mosquitos do not bite or suck blood,” explained Dr. Chike.

Dr. Chike and the University of Kentucky project’s resident mosquito scientist, Dr. Amanda Koppel, over the last two weeks, have been holding meetings with directors and key personnel of various American Samoa government departments, including the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Department of Parks and Recreation and Samoan Affairs, with all of these departments being briefed about the current and planned activities of the project in Aunu’u. They also met with the American Samoa Environmental Agency and the personnel of the National Parks and Services.

The project director, Dr. Stephen Dobson, who is currently visiting American Samoa, recently met with a group of of doctors and medical professionals at the Department of Health to seek their support in implementing the project.

“All of the mosquitos being used for the Aunu’u study are originally from that island, with the hope that the project, when in full implementation mode will contribute to the final eradication of the elephantiasis from American Samoa and the Pacific Region as a whole,” explained Dr. Dobson.

The project is still waiting for a permit from the US and the American Samoa Environmental Agency before embarking on the full project. According to the website, elephantiasis.freeyellow.com, elephantiasis, or Lymphatic Filariasis, is a rare disorder of the lymphatic system caused by parasitic worms which are transmitted by the female mosquitos.

Inflammation of the lymphatic vessels by the parasites causes extreme enlargement of the affected area, most commonly a limb or parts of the head and torso. While not fatal, the disease results in severe disability and social stigma.

“One way of fighting the disease’s spread is to treat humans with drugs. However, the spread of the disease cannot be stopped using only mass drug administration to humans” says the Tofa Mumu handout.

According to the project literature, the female aedes polynesiensis mosquitoes must be targeted and rendered incapable of reproducing and transmitting the disease.

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