What creature causes the most human deaths every year? A shark, a snake or perhaps tapeworm, might be your first guess. But with an estimated 725,000 deaths each year caused by mosquito related diseases, this buzzing creature tops the list of the world’s deadliest creature. Bill Gates posed this question on his blog, as his foundation seeks to help prevent the spread of diseases such as Malaria, Dengue fever, Yellow fever, and Encephalitis. Malaria alone is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands people annually.
Around the world there are scientists and researchers investigating mosquitoes, daily adding to the world wide pool of knowledge about these dangerous creatures and seeking to find ways to eliminate the impact of these often fatal diseases. This thirst for knowledge has increased recently as the Zika virus has begun appearing in more countries around the world. Esther Anderson, a recent passenger on the MAF Timor-Leste Airvan, is one these researchers who has been researching the ecology of Aedes mosquitoes in Same, Timor-Leste and experimenting with small scale methods of control. This type of mosquitoes is in the same family which spreads Dengue fever, Chikungunya (a disease which can cause very severe joint pain and fever) and the Zika virus.
Esther began her research in Same as a PhD project with Monash University, based in Melbourne Australia in 2011. But her interest and passion for the country of Timor-Leste began in the 1970s. Her research aimed to do three things; to identify the larval habitats of Aedes mosquitoes, to trial a trap like device which is used in the surveillance and also control of mosquitoes, and to educate the local people about how to reduce the mosquito population. These mosquitoes lay eggs in small amounts of water, so removing rubbish, where water might collect, covering water containers and tipping out containers with accumulated rainwater are simple ways of reducing the mosquito population in the area. While the research for her project, is now complete, she is continuing to conduct surveys of larvae (or mosquito eggs) in the area, as an act of community service and to contribute to scientific knowledge.
Alongside her scientific research in Same, Esther’s visit to the area also has a humanitarian focus. She is a convenor of a group called, Friends of Same, which is group of Melbourne based Australians who financially support a number of projects in Same. Some of their projects include: supporting a small education centre for blind and vision impaired children called Fuan Nabilan ba Matan Aat, or “Shining hearts for the blind”, providing school and university scholarships and providing a women’s group with a coconut oil press. The Same Youth Centre has also been a recipient of the Friends of Same’s assistance where they established a horticulture project and a has made it possible for the young people to make books in the local language, which have then been distributed to primary schools.
Esther explains that the use of the MAF plane has helped her tremendously in her work in Timor-Leste. She writes, “Because I have limited time in Timor, I have to make the best use of the time that I have. Before I discovered MAF I reached Same by bus which was extremely time consuming, sometimes taking nine or ten hours. Not only did the buses wait until they had enough passengers, with no set departure time, but they would stop frequently along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. The buses frequently broke down, and, because of the dreadful state of parts of the roads, travelled very slowly, and sometimes were prevented from reaching Same altogether because of landslides. The bumpiness of the roads meant that fragile equipment was also at risk of damage. MAF has been wonderful in its reliability and speed.”
Using the MAF plane has also assisted Esther with her work with Friends of Same. Can you imagine what Timorese roads with bumps and potholes would do to a set of laptops? When faced with needing to transport a set of twenty five laptops to Same, to be used in the Youth Centre, again the MAF plane was the answer for quick and safe transport.
Using the MAF plane also allows Esther to share the flight with colleagues and those in need, who could not afford to pay for an aeroplane flight themselves. She says, “on our last flight from Same to Dili, a Catholic nun, Madre Modesta who runs an orphanage and farm came with us to visit her seriously ill brother.” She has also been able to transport people to hospital appointments or to start work or study. “They have much appreciated being able to reach their destinations so quickly, particularly as the buses now travel only at night, leaving Same at 1a.m, meaning that people arrive in Dili the next morning tired and stressed,” she said.
Because the MAF pilots fly customers like Esther to destinations through Timor-Leste, the lives of isolated people are being improved. Esther, and many others like her, provide an important link between the people of Same and the world outside Timor-Leste. This link allows information about mosquitos and health to be transferred. It allows for the meeting of physical and educational needs in the region, with the help of concerned supporters in Australia. And through the work of the MAF aircraft and pilots, these services that Esther provides on each of her visits to Same, are made more quickly, safely and easily.