NEW YORK, New York–Malaria affects millions of people, killing an estimated 660,000, annually. Transmitted primarily through mosquitoes, it is virtually inescapable in many poor regions–water being the common vector between both organisms. Long-standing efforts to eradicate malaria have typically gone in a variety of directions; prevention, vaccination, and treatment in any number of medical, mechanical, or social avenues, have often existed almost in competition. With the 2015 Millennium Development Goals drawing near, however, UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan has called for these various platforms to commit to coordinating their efforts.
The health sector has historically received the most funding and attention; the promise of a single shot to ensure a lifetime without risk of infection is tantalizing, especially to those in the Western world who are accustomed to obtaining vaccinations easily for a multitude of diseases. However, progress has been slow even with the prodigious efforts of pharmaceuticals around the world. Ms. Grynspan emphasized social and infrastructural factors as contributing strongly to malaria risk, and the 70 experts who contributed to UN analysis identified the most impacting mechanisms and respective solutions.
The result has been a larger role for the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, which is now leading the way to meet three specific 2015 goals: to reduce malaria deaths to nearly zero, to reduce malaria cases by 75 percent of year 2000 levels, and to eliminate malaria completely in at least 10 countries and the entire WHO European region. RBM has met with success before, succeeding in eliminating malaria from Morocco, Turkmenistan, and the UAE.
Despite RBM’s ability to succeed, however, the 2015 objectives are highly ambitious. Possibly worse than their failure would be a frantic effort to meet with success through questionable means. Pesticides are one of RBM’s most proven ways to stop malaria–by driving away the infected mosquitoes from areas of human habitation, the chances of human infection are drastically lowered. However, as many incidents have proven, pesticides require years of testing to understand adequately, and even when they are approved by regulating institutions (all RBM pesticides are permitted by the Stockholm Convention), are not necessarily the optimal choice. There is a further danger that the use of pesticides in safe quantities by trained aid personnel will eventually give way to a culture of unsafe usage by unknowing laymen who, concerned with keeping the infected insects at bay, apply the poison too liberally.
If the new, integrated approach is successful, these dangers stand a strong chance of being diverted. The benefit of a multi-disciplinary approach is that sociologists, geographers, and anthropologists can keep their eye on the human component, while health workers focus on the medicine, each keeping the other from forgetting a crucial component. In the end, it will be better to miss the 2015 deadlines by a few months or years and develop a sustainable, multi-tiered solution–better for the generations of people who will benefit from the solutions, and better for the UN, which can use RBM as a lesson in effectiveness, to be applied to other arenas.
– Alex Pusateri
Sources: News Afrique Informations, UN News Centre, Roll Back Malaria, UN Radio
Photo: Ghana Health Nest