SEATTLE — Madagascar is a country located off the southeast coast of Africa, and it is the fourth-largest island in the world. Much of the island’s fame comes from its unique wildlife, having developed in isolation for many years.
Currently, there is a massive outbreak of plague in Madagascar, which has infected 1,192 people since August and caused 124 deaths.
Two-thirds of cases were the pneumonic form of the disease, which can be spread easily from person to person. The plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is usually spread through the bite of infected fleas, and carried frequently by rats.
The plague, commonly referred to as the Black Death, wiped out approximately 30 to 60 percent of the European population in the Middle Ages. The disease is treatable today with antibiotics, if it is detected early. Symptoms include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called bubos, as well as fever, chills and coughing.
There are three forms of the plague that can be identified: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. Unlike previous outbreaks, this year’s outbreak of plague in Madagascar involves mostly pneumonic plague, a more dangerous form of the disease than the far more common bubonic plague. With pneumatic plague, the infection reaches the lungs and can be transmitted through coughing. This leads to it being far more dangerous, as it spreads from person to person much easier, while bubonic plague spreads only from fleas to humans.
World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Madagascar Charlotte Ndiaye said the plague is curable if it is detected in time. “Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save,” she said. The WHO goes on to call plague a “disease of poverty” which is caused by unsanitary living conditions. Madagascar’s plague problem appears to have intensified, driven by a combination of economic and environmental factors.
So how can the issues of plague in Madagascar be solved? CEO and founder of Vital Energy Investments Katherine D. Farris visited Madagascar in March 2017 and saw the unacceptable state of health and sanitation. Farris spoke with The Borgen Project, stating that the technology already exists to deliver sustainable power generation and sanitation to Madagascar.
“The necessary means to clean up the open wounds which Malagasy citizens, both rural and urban, currently live is neither complex nor cheap. Vital and humane standards of waste collection and mitigation, landfill remediation and water sanitation can serve to generate meaningful training, local jobs, infrastructure, wastewater containment and distributed power, while protecting the environment,” Farris said.
Farris went on to say that once this basic infrastructure was in place, housing and access to education would naturally follow. “While prosperity and a greater standard of living for the Malagasy population are not insurmountable, it is going to take responsible development capital, humanitarian support and scrupulous leadership engagement of multiple government departments, within state and municipal jurisdictions. There is a profound need for all things infrastructure in Madagascar. So far, China appears to be leading the way, doing more than the combined G8 (Group of Eight) members.”
With additional funding and support, we can help improve the basic infrastructure of the country, improve sanitation and quality of health, and help put an end to the problem of plague in Madagascar.
– Drew Fox
Photo: Katherine Farris