Thursday, June 28, 2007

Malaria eradication

The World Health Organization has stated that its’ goal is to reduce the numbers of deaths from malaria by half by 2010 through its Global Malaria Programme. More than 1 million people die of Malaria every year, disproportionately affecting pregnant women and children under 5.
That seems like a noble goal: to reduce the number of deaths and I think all people would agree that we should reduce the number of deaths from a preventable and curable disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes that carry the plasmodium parasite in their guts. But why would we not set as our goal the world wide eradication of malaria?

In the US we adopted a policy of ERADICATION. We didn’t accept that this preventable and curable disease should just be controlled; we set out to eradicate it.
In 1947 in the US the National Malaria Eradication Program set out to completely eliminate malaria as a cooperative effort between state agencies and the CDC, (not coincidently HQ’d in Atlanta).

In 1947 there were 15,000 documented cases of malaria in the US, by 1951 malaria was considered eradicated. Europe was declared malaria free in the 60’s.

Why do we accept 1 million deaths a year from a preventable disease? Why do we set our goal to make it only 500,000 deaths? We already know how to prevent all of these deaths, we have done it in the US and Europe and been technically free from malaria for over 50 years.

Some people think the reason that more people don’t die in the US from malaria is because of our superior health care, and there is no question that if you ARE infected, the US is one of the best places to seek care—but the reason we are free of endemic malarial infection is superior prevention policy. We don’t allow the vector mosquitoes to transmit the virus in the first place, it’s the old “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In 1949 we sprayed over 4,650,000 private residences, we drain standing water, we implemented all sorts of efforts to eliminate the habitats where these mosquitoes breed. We can do it anywhere in the world, but we have to make it our goal. We cannot just accept that 1 million people should die and the best we can do is to reduce that number. We do not accept it in the US, malaria has been eradicated in the US for over 50 years.
In 2002 exactly 8 people died of malaria in the US. 1,337 cases were reported and of those cases ALL of them were imported from malaria-endemic countries. This is a problem that we can fix.


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