Sounding off on how to defeat malaria

Women receive insecticide-treated bed nets during an outreach distribution at their village in Haremaya district, Ethiopia. Photo by: UNICEF Ethiopia / CC BY-NC-ND 

Despite progress in reducing malaria rates, statistics can appear sobering: More than 200 million cases per year result in 600,000-plus deaths, with children accounting for most of them. In addition, an estimated 1 billion could be carrying the parasite causing malaria without even knowing it.

To rid the world of preventable deaths due to malaria, it is necessary to improve on the current diagnostic tool, which can detect 200 parasites per microliter of blood, wrote Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More, in a guest commentary Devex published last week. What we need now, Edlund said, are tests that can go down to 20 parasites per microliter of blood or even lower.

“Simply put: You can’t beat an enemy if you can’t find it,” he wrote an article that is part of a series hosted by Devex in partnership with Malaria No More and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “So any attempt to eradicate malaria must start with developing the diagnostic capabilities to find and free the roughly 1 billion people living with the parasite in their bloodstream and stopping them from transmitting.”

Devex readers have responded with their own thoughts on how to finally defeat malaria.

Learn from successful examples

Today, there’s a clamor for vaccines and drugs to kill the malaria-inducing parasite. But were those the key to the success in eradicating the disease in countries like the United States, asked Donatus Nde.

“Let them kindly tell us how they did it and with some improvements on their methods we can do better today,” Nde wrote in response to Edlund’s commentary.

Improve hygiene and sanitation

Developing a vaccine and testing people are indeed part of the solution, but so too hygiene education and proper sanitation, as a lack of both have provided a perfect breeding ground for malaria parasite-carrying mosquitoes, according to Jacqueline Simone Ambrose.

Ambrose said she works on a water project in Tabora, Tanzania, an area with high malaria rates. And there, a study found, people did not understand how to use insecticide-treated bed nets and so they used the nets as bed cover and for other purposes.

“Many have not completed school & due to poor early nutrition have difficulty understanding the connection [between hygiene, health and their surroundings],” Ambrose noted.

Develop a potent vaccine

A vaccine that could finally get rid of malaria would provide protection for those who have yet to have it and be strong enough to kill the parasite in those that are already carriers of the disease, said Chris Chin. And there should be enough money to produce it in massive amounts and provide it for free to those living in hard-hit areas where most residents would not be able to afford vaccination.

What’s your take on the elimination of malaria? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Currently based in New York City, Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.