African business, politics and lifestyle
What’s the best way to fight malaria?
Nine out ten of malaria deaths occur in Africa – that’s nearly 1 million fatalities a year. The World Health Organisation estimates the financial loss to Africa because of malaria at 12 billion dollars a year.******And yet it’s an illness that’s preventable: the cheapest and easiest method is to stay under a mosquito net during the night.******In South Sudan, a mosquito net costs around $2, still too expensive for many here, where income per capita is just 25 cents per day. So the government and private charities have launched a campaign to distribute 75 million dollars’ worth of nets to 6 million people in the south before the rains start in July. With only 14 km of paved roads in the entire region, it won’t be easy.************With most fatalities occurring in children under 5, many in Africa are pinning their hopes on an infant malaria vaccine that is due to enter the final phase of human trials. They’ll be launched in Gabon and will ultimately involve 16,000 children in seven countries.******Human trials in 2007 and 2008 showed the vaccine to be as safe as other infant vaccines reviewed by the World Health Organisation. It was shown to prevent malaria in 50-55 percent of cases. That’s better than nothing, says Dr. Joe Cohen from the London-based pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, who invented the vaccine: “Fifty-five percent efficacy against such a disease means hundreds of lives saved every year,” he told Reuters Africa Journal.******The vaccine’s cost has been shared by GlaxoSmithKline and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Malaria Vaccine Initiative, so that once it’s ready, it can be distributed to communities that need it free of charge. But even if all goes well and the vaccine is approved, it will still be three more years before it’s on the market.******In the meantime, Zanzibar has taken a different approach. In five years, they’ve managed to reduce malaria rates from 50-60 percent to just 1 percent. They’ve done it by distributing bed-nets every few years, spraying homes against mosquitoes, and treating any malaria cases using the best medicine currently available, Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy, or ACT.******There’s a downside though. Thousands of people travel between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania every day, so even if malaria was eliminated from the islands, it could come back — and cause an epidemic when it does.******Abdullah Ali manages the Zanzibar Malaria Control Programme and explains why they’re worried. “Because the disease burden is just too low, and because the population is not very much exposed to mosquito bites, the chances of immunity reduction is very high,” Ali says. “There are people that have not had a malaria attack for the last four years. So if we continue this trend, the body immunity reduced and the chances of a malaria epidemic is very high.”******Do you think that Zanzibar is right to try and eliminate — or at least significantly reduce — malaria, in spite of the risk of an epidemic? What should African countries and the international community to do fight malaria and reduce the burden it places on African economies?