Malaria is one of the oldest diseases in mankind and causes hundreds of millions of people to suffer each year. It’s as common as the cold and kills one child every thirty seconds. Interventions are being put in place in endemic regions, with mosquito nets and educational programmes underway. Changing the politics of malaria is the way forward.
The Science of Malaria
Malaria is a difficult disease to tackle for three reasons. The first is scientific, the malaria-causing parasite goes through several stages in its life and so treatments can only target a certain phase. The mosquito is also a problem when it comes to fighting malaria, only the Anopheles mosquito can transmit malaria, compared with thousands of mosquito species.
The Economics of Malaria
The economic challenges of malaria are also significant. Poverty is both a cause and effect of malaria, with the disease slowing and depressing economic growth. Due to the nature of accommodation in developing countries, many individuals live near areas of stagnant water which are the breeding sites of mosquitoes. Many people find themselves out of work because malaria makes them homebound. It was Malaria Must Die that announced that for every $1 spent on malaria prevention, there will be a return of $36 to the local economy.
The Politics of Malaria
As stated in the introductory paragraph, malaria is as common as the cold and is seen as a way of life in endemic regions. This results in a lack of action and responsibility from countries to tackle the issue, leaving other countries to intervene and provide sustainable solutions. To us in the western world, malaria is seen as a debilitating disease that cripples the economies of countries that have it. Whilst this is true, malaria is an integral part of society in developing countries and is not seen out of the ordinary.
Solutions are typically to distribute long-lasting mosquito nets and other malaria-preventing tools. But is this really effective in the long run? Mosquito nets are difficult to use and require education, time, money and resources. They are surgical interventions and don’t offer any value to families other than malaria prevention. Mosquito nets are rarely used, less than 20% of people who were given the nets actually used them. This number may be an over-exaggeration as the study was conducted by asking if the individuals used the nets that they were given.
Recently, the Ugandan government launched the ‘Mass Action Against Malaria’ programme. The aim of the programme is to reduce the transmission of malaria through IRS (Indoor Residual Spraying) and the distribution of mosquito nets. This launch was significant and showed that the Ugandan government were ready to tackle this scourge.
The first concerted attack against malaria began in the 1950s, devised by the US State Department. Then they focused on cheap and easy-to-use tools and took the patronising view that everything should be done to and for the people at risk to malaria. They focused on DDT but significantly underestimated the scientific hurdles and boundaries, leading to these tools beginning to fail. This led to the US ceasing its malaria research with the campaign crashing down, malaria resurged and public opinion changed. WHO said that this was “one of the greatest mistakes ever made in public health”’
Developments are being made in developing new vaccines and drugs. The MMV (Medicines for Malaria Venture) has a host of new drugs in development. One of which is Tafenoquine, which was recently approved by the FDA. Some, however, have raised concerns over its neuropsychiatric side effects. In fact, in its current state, the drug may not be used in developing counties due to its pre-screening requirements.
The Malarious Way of Live
But ‘the only way forward’, according to author Sonia Shah is to revolutionise the malarious way of life and the economies of malaria endemic regions. The reason for how the US and the UK eliminated malaria was by attacking a range of social and economic factors, not just transmission. By focusing on bad roads, bad houses, bad drainage, lack of electricity and rural poverty, malaria can be eliminated.
This is not a quick fix, this is not cheap but rather slow, laborious and expensive. But when insecticide resistance continues to grow and new drugs receiving criticism, changing the malarious way of life may be the only viable way to eradicate malaria – it’ll be sustainable too.