Ending Deaths by Malaria

I was in an interesting conversation today that reveals the problem of adequately describing how to talk about bringing an end to persistent diseases. There has been pointed debate about about eliminating or eradicating malaria.

It’s not mere semantics. Malaria, in the informed judgment of some professionals, cannot be completely eliminated. Frankly, I don’t understand the difference between eliminate and eradicate, but perhaps it’s just that my dictionary is limited.

I’ve some malaria professionals say that under circumstances favorable to the parasite the disease could return to areas of the world where it is not a threat currently. Global warming could change regional climates and the adaptable parasite could come back with new strength.

So some cautious professionals say that calling for eliminating malaria could set the bar too high and result in loss of credibility and momentum. A secondary but very significant point is that a campaign to eliminate malaria risks focusing on one technology at the expense of others. Vaccination research or genetic manipulation could capture funds that might otherwise purchase bednets, develop pesticides or result in a decline in treatment programs, for example. The concern is that competition for dollars could put a comprehensive abatement program at risk.

What we’ve been saying for quite some time in our shop is that we want to help put an end to deaths by malaria and other diseases poverty. This places the issue squarely where it needs to be, I think. We want to stop the suffering and dying. There are many ways to do it.

When individual donors make a contribution for a bednet, they’re really making a statement that they want to be part of a movement that is saving lives. They want to make a difference and this is one concrete, tangible way to do it.

Of course, this kind of simplicity can be criticized and rationalized as not being enough, being too simple, or even being naive. But the critical question is how do we mobilize a world movement to bring better living conditions, healthier conditions, to people currently living without them? Send a net, save a life is one way.

So I’m pleased to hear that the language of eradication and elimination is being re-considered if that will make it easier for people to get on-board. What I want to see is no more children dying from a disease that is preventable and treatable.

If we need to replace eradicate or eliminate with “stop malaria deaths” in order to build a movement, then stop malaria deaths is OK by me. A result by any other name would be as sweet.

3 Responses to “Ending Deaths by Malaria”

  1. Esmeralda VS Meyer March 13, 2008 at 9:53 am #

    End Malaria….What is needed

    Having worked for a year and a half with the Malaria Foundation International (MFI, http://www.malaria.org) in promoting two major projects: the End Malaria – Blue Ribbon Campaign (EM-BRc) and the Student Leaders Against Malaria (SLAM) global network, I’ve come to understand that the main hurdle that we, malaria advocates, need to realize is that malaria is the tip of the iceberg. Deaths by malaria, or any communicable disease, in poor regions of the globe is the consequence of a diminished and deficient health, social and economical system.

    We all ought to review the history of malaria eradication programs in the the US and Europe, or programs initiated in Central and South America and Asia. It was with better housing, window screens, available medication and prompt diagnosis that malaria devastation was essentially eliminated in the United States and Europe, and it was controlled for some time in various South American countries like Colombia. The major problem in developing countries was the establishment of self-sustaining malaria eradication programs and regional governments taking charge of the process. Malaria will hardly be eradicated/eliminated if the living conditions are not improved and if communities fail to take charge of their own future.

    Along with economical development, individuals in malaria endemic regions need to be educated about malaria, the disease, this type of knowledge will empower them to make decisions at the right time and go to the right place. Once individuals are educated and know what to do, bednets will be used properly, they won’t be sold to the neighbor in exchange for money to feed the family, they won’t be used as decorations pieces, or used to catch fish in the nearby river. Medications will be taken following the health authority instructions, including completing the treatment, and learning to recognize counterfeit pills.

    The MFI’s “End Malaria – Blue Ribbon club” and “Student Leaders Against Malaria” in Assam-India, Niger, Botswana, Nigeria, and Malawi, Liberia, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, among others, have the commitment of educating themselves about the disease, and going to villages to educated other just like them to End Malaria. The great value of these efforts focuses on the people doing the job, it is students, children, women, and community leaders who want to transform their communities into a better place.

    Esmeralda VS Meyer
    Malaria Foundation International
    Outreach Director


  2. Larry March 13, 2008 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks for your excellent comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. As important as it is to address malaria, the social, economic and systemic issues in which malaria occurs must be addressed. We must work at how to create awareness of this larger context and look for multiple ways to address it.

    I recall taking a required a required course in health long ago in college and the instructor said the most important public health innovation in U.S. history was the use of screens on windows. In my youthful ignorance I found that a strange proposition. Of course, it’s also an exaggeration as there were many changes that made for better health. But the statement stays with me. It’s going to take attention to a wide range of issues and you make that point well. The diseases of poverty are outcomes of social, economic and public health inequities.

    Thanks again for a great summary of the issues. And thanks for the link to your organization’s website.


  3. Africa Fighting Malaria April 24, 2008 at 8:05 am #

    World Malaria Day is April 25, 2008. Africa Fighting Malaria is issuing a Call to Action to support indoor residual spraying, a highly effective, World Health Organization-approved method of malaria control – check out our interactive Africa map: http://fightingmalaria.org/issues.aspx?issue=14

    Also check out our new video and support AFM’s fight against malaria! http://fightingmalaria.org/AFMInAction/

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