Weekly Roundup: Malaria Making Progress?

This originally appeared in Dowser.org.  Photo Courtesy of Guardian.

April 28, 2012

This week the global health and development community marked World Malaria Day (April 25), highlighting new initiatives to fight malaria: the Partnership for Transforming Health Systems in tandem with the Clinton Health Access Initiative; the African Development Bank’s $30 million grant for malaria; and the WHO’s new program, “Test, Treat, Track.”  The theme this year is: “Sustain Gains, Save Lives:  Invest in Malaria.”

As all these initiatives go into effect (or rally together for greater support), we hear of an upsurge of malaria cases in the Congo and a new wave of resistant strains, not responding to antimalarial medicine.

Malaria is estimated to kill over 650,00 people each year.  WHO says that it threatens 2.2 billion people in 20 countries.   The bulk of the deaths though (almost 90%) take place in Africa, where it affects one in six children.

According to Chambers, UN General’s Special Envoy For Malaria, nearly 1 million lives have been saved, thanks to the increase in the availability of insecticide-treated nets.  A new report by the Results for Development Institute, released on the 25th, suggests that the development community ought to invest in more bednets, which can save lives and prevent more infections from taking place.

But it’s a costly effort, much like other public health efforts.   Guardian breaks down the costs:

  • An estimated $5bn-$6.2bn is needed each year if the global target of reducing 75% of malaria cases by 2015 is to be reached.
  • Funds committed to malaria control from international sources were expected to peak in 2011 at $2bn
  • Malaria-related illnesses and mortality cost Africa’s economy $12bn a year.
  • The Department for International Development’s commitment on malaria is to help halve deaths in at least 10 countries by 2015. Until 2014/15 up to £500m a year has been set aside to achieve that goal.

And now with certain antimalarial drugs not working, due to resistance, the Global Fund is deploying a new round of medicines, which will be made available at low cost – approximately $1for a course, and 50 cents for a rapid diagnostic test.

The overall message is that the number of cases has decreased over the last decade.  However, the HT questions this. Its broad conclusions are that malaria mortality and incidence rates have remained constant between 2000-2004, but continuously declined from 2005 to 2010 with the mortality rate down by a quarter worldwide, and the incidence rate down by 17%. But is there a reason to celebrate? Not quite. Incidence rate isn’t the same as number of cases, and the mortality rate isn’t the same as the number of deaths. Although both have gone down, malaria cases and deaths haven’t effectively decreased in Africa.

Interestingly, the same week, Foreign Affairs ran a story, arguing that the greatest threats to the developing world are not communicable, or infectious diseases (such as malaria).  Rather, they are the non-communicable diseases that are plaguing developing nations (such as fistullas, diarrhea, stroke, etc).   Even though, the World Economic Forum in 2010 stated that these diseases “pose a greater threat to global economic development than fiscal crises, natural disasters, corruption, or infectious disease,” little money and attention is diverted to address it.

There are some innovative solutions for Malaria that have been profiled previously in the media:

  • FastCoExist: Genetically Altered Goat Squirt Out Malaria Curing Milk
  • Acumen: DART/ Double Activated Residual Textiles
  • GOOD: Students with a Smartphone App that Diagnoses Malaria

A few questions continue to drive the  malaria debate:
– How do we deal with these new resistant strains?
– Do we continue with the top-down approach, originating from international global health organizations or do we invest further in more localized approaches?
– Do we look at crowdsourcing as a means to find successful models in the long run?
– How much of the focus should be on prevention versus treatment/ vaccine?  do we need to reassess this?
– What role do smaller players, such as social enterprises, play in this massive global health campaign?

Worthwhile Reads:

  • The Economist reports on the third industrial revolution, driven by digital innovation andcollective manufacturing.
  • Charles Penny, argues in the FP that armed with a MBA and a job at a multinational, Millennials can make a positive impact in the world.
  • World Crunch wants to be Rosetta Stone of the World, translating newspapers, reportsNeiman Lab.
  • The Worst Places to be a Woman, according to Foreign Policy.  Do we agree?
  • SMS in Africa: the power of mobile money, illustrated by the Economist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s