If there are two things that I can readily point to that I hate with a passion, they are the mosquito and the disease that it spreads, malaria. Last Sunday, 25th April, was World Malaria day, and as usual Ghanablogging decided to make it a blog action day. Below is my post:
Malaria is undoubtedly one of the parasitic infections of prime medical concern, as more than half of the earth's population are at the risk of this dangerous disease. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that the situation is particularly dire in Africa:
One in every five (20%) childhood deaths is due to the effects of the disease. An African child has on average between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year. And every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria.
In spite of this grim revelation, the incidence of the disease is actually declining in many countries on the continent. Most of the gains made in containing the spread of malaria are as a result of interventions such as sanitation campaigns, Insecticide-Treated Nets (ITNs) and combination therapy. In addition to the above measures, there are a number of interesting ways through which people hope to reduce the spread of malaria all over the world.
Short Message Service (SMS) Technology
Many organizations are taking advantage of the ubiquity of mobile phones in even the remotest areas to introduce innovative applications based on SMS technology to combat malaria on many fronts. One of the interesting solutions I found is called SMS for Life, which is a partnership between Norvatis, Roll Back Malaria, Vodafone, IBM and Tanzania's Ministry of Health. SMS for Life uses a combination of various technological tools to track and measure the delivery of essentials to rural health facilities. The pilot programme that was run in Tanzania delivered astounding results.
Genetically-Modified (GM) Mosquitoes
The vector of the malaria parasite, the female Anopheles mosquito, can be manipulated genetically in order to limit its ability to carry the plasmodium parasite. Since DNA ultimately controls biological processes in living organisms, this method promises to be very effective in controlling mosquito populations, and hence malarial infections. Further, male mosquitoes can also be sterilized, preventing them from fertilizing the female mosquitoes, thus depriving the malarial pathogens of a suitable host. Preliminary research have produced some successful results but it may take a while for actual application due to ethical reasons.
New Diagnostic Methods, New Drugs and Vaccines
The incidence of resistance observed in the Plasmodium parasite the world over presents a grave danger to malaria control measures. However, teams of researchers and scientists are rising up to the challenge, bringing out brilliant and innovative new diagnostic methods, drugs and vaccines. Immunochromatographic methods are fast gaining reputation as diagnostic methods of choice as they score quite highly when criteria such as affordability, technical level of staff, accuracy and speed are taken into consideration. Also, antibiotics such as tigecycline are opening new windows of hope against Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) Plasmodium falciparum as demonstrated in Bangladesh. In the area of new vaccines, many research teams are striving to be the first to introduce a very effective and widely used antidote to the noxious scourge of malaria. It is refreshing that African scientists are playing a central role in this development since Sub-Saharan Africa is the most badly hit region.
The Way Forward
There are lofty international targets that must be met by 2015 in the fight against malaria. Although these targets are unlikely to be met by the deadline, recent overall progress worldwide leaves a warm glow in my heart. All members of the international community including Ghana must work extra hard to meet national roadmap deadlines as spelt out in their national strategies. Finally we must all start thinking of how we can contribute to rolling back malaria in our various communities.
Do you have great ideas of your own about how malaria can be contained? What are some of the success stories that you know about anti-malaria work? What are thoughts about malaria? What experiences have you had with the disease? Please hit me with your stories!