Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Renewed Fight Against Malaria

By Loren Becker, Global Health Program Analyst, FasterCures

The global health community is abuzz with possibilities for malaria – media attention on the disease last week, leading up to World Malaria Day, provided us a glimpse of this interest. Since Bill and Melinda Gates issued their call for the global elimination of malaria in late 2007, the global health sector are fired up about putting an end to a disease that kills a child every 30 seconds and imposes direct costs of $12 billion a year on sub-Saharan Africa. The commemoration of World Malaria Day on April 25 spotlights some of these efforts.
  • The Roll Back Malaria Partnership launched a two-year campaign to ensure universal coverage of anti-malarial tools.
  • A group of major donors announced a new program aiming to make powerful anti-malarial drugs affordable.
  • Even celebrities like David Beckham and Ashton Kutcher have gotten in on the act through campaigns to purchase and distribute insecticide-treated nets to protect from mosquitoes while they sleep.
One thing is clear from past experiences with malaria: having one set of powerful tools is not enough. Previously, new tools like chloroquine treatment and the pesticide DDT had been the cornerstones of several successful malaria elimination campaigns. On the basis of this success, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a Global Malaria Eradication Campaign under which 37 countries successfully eliminated malaria as a public health threat, and many others made significant reductions in the number of cases and deaths reported. However, widespread use of chloroquine and DDT also triggered an evolutionary response in both the malaria parasite and the mosquitoes that transmit it, and both developed the ability to resist these tools. The expectation of complete eradication led to a lack of investment and interest in developing new tools that could replace the old ones.

Now a renewed interest in malaria has led to new tools. The global community appears to have learned some lessons: current efforts include initiatives aimed at developing the next generation of tools. With increased research funding we’ve seen the birth of many malaria specific organizations including the Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, for which malaria is one of several focal diseases. Older research organizations like the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases also have ramped up their investments in malaria research.

Many of these research groups are nonprofit organizations that receive most or all of their funding from governments and foundations. Private philanthropists can play an important role in funding key malaria research that will save lives. To help these donors understand targeted areas for potential of philanthropic R&D investment, the FasterCures Philanthropy Advisory Service is including malaria in the pilot. Look for the launch in June!

Let’s keep the attention on malaria spurred by World Malaria Day throughout the rest of the year. Here’s a glimpse at some of the coverage last week:


Brad Elder said...

How about teaching them how to make their own mosquito nets? Give them the job and the profits. Break the chain of dependence. Here is how we are putting the power in their hands. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UprtQqDKvM

pfj said...

Having powerful new tools to fight malaria can be a wonderful thing.

But what ever happened to an inexpensive old treatment which, as far as I know, worked? I have no detailed information, but apparently methylene blue can be a treatment. One bottle of powder could make gallons of the liquid form. Couldn't local doctors or even midwives, etc., be taught to 'reconstitute' bottles of powder? And taught about doses? Cheap, and a lot better than no treatment at all.

pfj said...

And also . . . there could be 'trap bottles' for mosquitos, just as the Maasai have traps for tsetse flies. (See -- http://www.cd3wd.com/CD3WD_40/ITDG/FLYTRAP/EN/FLYTRAP.HTM )

The biggest differences would be that for mosquitoes, the bottles should be at the edge of the shade, close to sunny spots. And the 'bait' inside should be one, or two, herbal substances which appeal to mosquitoes. Several are known. Different mosquitoes may like different scents; important to try them all, and in varying combinations.

Loren Becker said...

Brad and PFJ -- There are many researchers working on just these sorts of questions. The FasterCures Philanthropy Advisory Service is working to help philanthropists better understand these efforts and their place in the malaria research world.