The End of Malaria

About two years ago I had a conversation with a physician who cautioned, admonished might be a better word, to not call for an end to malaria. It was a call destined to fail, he said.

Knowing he was well-informed about global health, it caused me great caution. His perspective is shared by veteran workers and malaria researchers. They know that the world made great progress toward containing, if not eradicating, the disease thirty years ago only to see it come back with vengeance when abatement measures were scaled down. They fear a repeat with even worse consequences–a resistant strain of malaria than cannot be effectively treated with known medicines.

There is plenty of reason for caution here. But a new report by the World Health Organization cites progress containing this disease in the past two years and makes the projection that malaria’s toll could be reduced by 80 to 85% in five years with widespread distribution and use of bednets coupled with other prevention measures and better treatment. Dr. Arata Kochi, a malaria expert at WHO says, “we can reduce the disease burden 80 to 85 percent in most African countries within five years.”

If this assessment holds, a global push to control malaria may be what is needed next to achieve a tipping point. But the caution remains. Progress today does not guarantee long-term reduction. The risk is real that a reduction in aggressive prevention and treatment could result in catastrophic reversal. It will take willpower, long-term commitment and consistent determination to put this diease in the background.

But with a disease that claims a life every thirty seconds, millions of debilitating episodes a year and at least a million deaths, shouldn’t we give it our best effort? For the first time in a long time we have the means and the capability. Caution should not overtake commitment.

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