Outthinking the Deadly Mosquito Gimmick

Office-going parents, concerned educators, and grandparents trusted with putting the children down for a quick afternoon nap after-school, have one thing in common—a constant sense of apprehension. This is not about prying eyes following their children. Instead, they are apprehensive by things that hum from a distance and can put people into the ICU with a single bite. Yes, mosquitoes are perhaps up there, in the list of biggest threats for children. FMCGs, multinationals, home-grown businesses, and emerging experts in this niche are cashing on this sense of anxiety. The supermalls, online marketplaces, and neighbourhood stores are flooded with anti-mosquito products. Some promise to kill them and others vouch for creating a boundary no insect can breach. There are lifestyle experts preaching that if daily, mosquito protection measures are not followed, you are looking at a disaster, i.e. a kid missing weeks of school days with repeat visits to a doctor or a hospital. The result? A new lifestyle economy that is present across every urban household across India – the Mosquito Marketplace.

This is not about Blaming Parental Anxiety!

Most parents have done their homework, properly organizing their thoughts about the recent mosquito-related illnesses in their neighbourhood and social circle. This also includes gathering information about the type of insect repelling products used. If a certain branded repellent was used and a child still had to face hospital visits, the jury is out—just not effective enough! But this is not just about the fear that comes with paternal and maternal instincts. There is an entire industry that this fear has spawned.  This healthcare scare is bringing business to healthcare sector beyond your imagination. The market has plenty of self-diagnostic kits that promise to confirm the slightest chance of a mosquito-related vector in the bloodstream. Today, imported diagnostic kits, with the Chinese and non-Chinese buying sentiments intact, are being promoted via fancier pharmacies that refer to these tests as 100% accurate, no leaving anything to chance.

Urban share of buying mosquito repellents accounts for nearly 70%, with increasing affluence in urban population, increasing healthcare awareness, and more media exposure that influences buying decisions

Ask someone in the upper hierarchy of the Indian Council of Medical Research about such claims and you probably will have an answer that oscillates between being confused and unsure—the standards for such kits remain highly undefined. The claims can be over-the-top and often without any research data. Frequent health check-ups seem like the staple since the untested might have a gestating virus that a mosquito bite had passed on. There is a good deal of scare tactics put into practice as well. The media is constantly reminding us that every mosquito bite can spell doom. It seems that diseases unrelated to the little pest are less important. This too seems more of a psychological assumption where relentless pursuit of hand sanitizers and spray-sanitizing everything outside the home provides a sense of satisfaction.

The Indian mosquito repellent market stood at nearly $ 670 million in 2018 and is projected to grow, up to nearly $900 million by 2024

But when it comes to mosquitoes, the mere thought can raise blood pressure levels. Parents seem convinced that despite the creams, lotions, and sprays something will cross the barrier and bite their child. However, the blame is not on a boardroom father or a career-chasing mom juggling the household. When every case of mosquito-related death is published without providing any reality check about the diagnostics, follow-up treatment, or preventative measures, everyone is bound to assume that one bite can end it.

dengue fever
An Evolving Mosquito Economy.

Now, there is even more categorisation and categorisation. We have daytime repellents and those that get the job done at night. Daytime bites have been associated with dengue, swine flu and chikungunya. Leading lifestyle brands are using this as the perfect backdrop to push their respective inventories. The marketing psychology is the same. Make it sound more specific, more advanced, and people will believe it. The widespread fear is also being played perfectly for pushing related products. For instance, household insecticides. It seems like the humble naphthalene and phenyl are no longer good enough. There is a need for specialists for the most microscopic insect-killing demands. Manufacturers are enriching their portfolio with products that cater to each such demand. Enter, a slew of solutions and sprays that promise to sanitise different types of household surfaces to the extent that no possible infection can reach your child.

Mosquito repellent market in India is worth more than Rs 3,200 crore, dominated by 4 major players – this means room for more competitors, more overseas & indigenous brands competing to garner a bigger market share

A household insecticide means more brand recognition, and the room to sell similar-minded products like dish-washing solutions, fabric care products, and equipment to scrub harder, heavy-duty scrapers, and other accessories that ‘will’ at par with ‘global standards’. This should also lead to a simple question – what is the global standard for these products? Non-Asian developed nations without the tropical climate probably don’t have such threats, definitely not of equally serious proportions. Then isn’t it likely that the performance standards for such products across the world are different? Perhaps the question is a bit too specific for brand ambassadors and regional marketing teams. The market is also finding an increasing demand for bug treatment that can be done annually, mosquito containment programs, and home treatments that promise to keep away all types of pests, insects, and bugs.

WHO: Malaria causes more than 400,000 deaths every year globally – most of them children under 5 years of age

Nation-wide & Nationally-scaled…the ‘almost’ epidemic!

This might seem like a mini-economy but it has nationwide presence. The profit margins are massive. One headlines about the outbreak of Zika virus in the most distant state can be used as the groundwork to build the next marketing strategy. The takers are there – people genuinely concerned about family health, very sensitive to things that can bite their kids and put toddlers in emergency care units. But dengue alone is perhaps the king when it comes to national-scale panic about the mosquito threat.

Malaria control

Dengue in South India has been spreading its tentacles with the mosquito-borne disease claiming 6 lives and affecting more than 6000

[Lok Sabha Government Statistics: June 21, 2019

Every year, the disease consumes human lives by the hoard across the nation. While reasons like the lack of civil care are not adhered to instantly, the sales incurred due to the threat mount with every passing second. Perhaps, there is an infographic out there that can tell about the number of mosquito repellents sold in India every minute – we believe the number will be shockingly high. Economists too have concluded that the healthcare burden of dengue is massive in India. Not just leave days from the school, it also contributes to workplace, salary deductions and spending beyond the coverage of a typical family health insurance program.

Health department officials carry-out fogging, fumigation, stagnant water removal & anti-larvae spraying, but dengue continues to be a threat in almost all the major cities across India

Sometimes, the government data of this cannot be trusted completely as the inability to tackle dengue can get highlighted in the wrong way. A regional study estimated the medical, daily cost of treating Dengue at INR 450 but the spending incurred outside the hospital, across home-care and non-medical settings can be much more. The cost usually includes treatment add-ons and repeated tests that continue beyond the hospital stay that is often insured for. Dengue seems to have outdone Malaria when it comes to vector-borne diseases that mosquitoes bring about, more widespread in rural locations. The government has been somewhat active in trying to control the panic around dengue diagnostics and was forthcoming about some diagnostics tests being useless and others providing very low efficacy levels in terms of determining the infection.

National Dengue Day is observed in India on May 16 with the recommendation of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, to create awareness about Dengue

However, vector-borne diseases can be profitable for government sector hospitals that are not hesitant about raising a red flag when it comes to lack of treatment beds. The issue is quickly highlighted and the already burdened healthcare system is ridiculed in the media. This can be the perfect grounds for an overseas treatment provider who can ‘miraculously’ save the day. Such arrangements too often raise a question about the unification of the private and state sectors – was the non-availability portrayed with high octane, was the dengue epidemic fear use to provide a well-planned favour to a medical device-maker?

WHO: More than 3.9 billion people in 128 countries are at risk of contracting DENGUE, with 96 million cases estimated per year – such vector borne diseases are a global concern

Summing-up: the BIG Takeaways

  • The mosquito threat is real and thriving in India without a quick resolution.
  • Families will panic when it comes to the immediate wellbeing of their kin.
  • Manufacturers are known to manipulate parental anxieties to inspire sales.
  • There are no perfect anti-mosquito repellents – 100% efficacy is still a dream.
  • Parents need to combine precaution with product education to buy smarter
children mosquito repellent
What should an end-user in the mosquito marketplace do?

Make educated choices! That is the best thing parents can do. The mosquito marketplace might seem not mature but look deeper and you will realize the immense thought put into it. The stakes are high. Brands will compete for attention in the mosquito repellent industry with vaporizers, creams, sprays, mats and coils being projected as the saviour. However, none of these can ensure 100% protection against that deadly bite – there is no globally respected healthcare or research organization that has ever said so about a certain repellent. The idea is to create a blend in your arsenal. This also means being more practical.

Children are particularly the big challenge as their ecosystem changes many times, during the course of the day. Creams and sprays might wear off and coils won’t be lit-up outdoors. This is why the entry of insect repelling outerwear is creating a buzz. It is a practical and useful product that protects the kids when they are most vulnerable – outside, away from supervision.

Insect repellent apparel has just started growing in India but globally it is very popular among caravanning families, camping groups, and tourists who visit tropical nations.

Protective clothing that has been treated for skin-safe, child-safe performance without causing irritation or sweating seems like a logical choice. Such mosquito-repellent clothing borrows the best features from various types of mosquito eradication products. How?

  • Any outdoor environment presents the threat of a potentially fatal mosquito bite – be prepared!
  • Wearables are more practical to use than smoky coils
  • Protective apparels don’t need electrical power or stocking multiple spraying cans
  • Clothing provides a layered, physical barrier against insect bites
  • Body-worn repellents protect beyond the scope of parental or school-time supervision

Don’t read too much into how mosquitoes are evolving and insect-repellents are failing – there is no end to the conjecture here. Just make the best choices, backed with real information, and smart price comparisons. During monsoons and seasons which see a spurt in mosquito population, be more careful. Beyond a certain point, there are things you cannot protect against or change – just try your best & keep your chin up – with or without a mosquito buzzing around you!