SEATTLE — Each year, 500,000 people die as a result of malaria. This is an especially pernicious disease in poor countries, where malaria is most prevalent. Economic growth is often much slower in areas affected by malaria, which is exacerbated by the human strain that suffering from the disease causes. The presence of malaria in a country or region can also deter investment and humanitarian aid, as volunteers and investors may be less likely to visit a certain area out of fear of contracting the disease. This means the fight against malaria must be pushed to the forefront in the fight against global poverty.
Malaria Proven to Be an Insidious Global Disease
Malaria—a parasite spread through mosquitoes—can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites. Netting and meshes that prevent mosquitoes from entering sleeping spaces or households are vital, while insect repellents are often good tools to prevent bites while going about one’s daily business. Antimalarial treatments also exist, though they are often unavailable to people in impoverished countries, or in limited supply.
Yet, while preventing malaria is possible, the disease has proven to be tenacious. In various parts of the world, particularly in parts of Africa and the Americas, the disease has increased in prevalence. In Central and South America, for example, countries such as Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia and Venezuela have seen the number of malaria-infected patients increase between 2010 and 2016.
The fight against malaria has become especially serious in Venezuela, where political turmoil, an economic crisis and the public’s inability to access humanitarian aid and medical supplies have allowed the disease to spread quickly. This has also lead to an increase in malaria in the countries surrounding Venezuela, because as refugees and migrants leave their country, so too does the disease.
Fight Against Malaria Encourages by New Treatments
However, there does appear to be hope in the fight against malaria. Paraguay has recently eradicated the disease, with Argentina set to soon follow. This is good news for a region that, especially in recent years, has not been seeing much success in defeating the disease. Meanwhile, breakthroughs in drug technology have led to the production of a new medicine designed to combat recurring malaria—a type of malaria that remains dormant in the liver before returning multiple times, and is the most prevalent form of malaria beyond sub-Saharan Africa.
The drug has been hailed as “one of the most significant advances in malaria treatment in the last 60 years,” as Oxford University professor Ric Price described it to the BBC. Of course, the drug would need to be readily available in the countries where that form of malaria is common, though the drug itself stands as a great leap forward in eliminating the disease.
The recent strides in the fight against malaria can also be understood as a rallying cry. Chris Collins of the Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, noted in an op-ed for the New York Times that the success in Paraguay should inspire the global community to “push progress forward” and work to eradicate the disease totally.
Collins points to the economic incentives of erasing malaria, as growth is much higher in malaria-free countries. This, as well as the recent advances in technology such as the aforementioned drug, point to the need for a unified global partnership to ensure continued hope that malaria may one day be a disease of the past.
– William Wilcox