Ending a killer’s reign
Here, in this part of the globe, a mosquito is a summertime nuisance, a six-legged visitor whose search for blood leaves an itchy reminder on the skin. But in other parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the insect’s arrival can be a harbinger of death. For housed in the saliva of innumerable Anopheles mosquitoes resides the parasite that causes malaria, a disease that infects up to half a billion people a year, killing close to a million, the majority being African children under five.
Malaria has no cure. At least not yet. But if the Gates Foundation has anything to do with it, one day, there will be.
For years the foundation, based in Seattle, has donated more than a billion dollars toward seeing malaria’s end. And last week, during the foundation’s Oct. 17-20 Malaria Forum, Bill and Melinda asked 300 scientists and policymakers to embrace what was declared to be an “audacious” goal: a day when no one in the world has malaria.
“We will not stop working until malaria is eradicated,” Bill Gates said.
Both short range and long-term actions are viewed as important. Considered one of the simplest strategies is the introduction, into many impoverished households, of mosquito nets. Domes of cheesecloth-like material that hang over sleeping areas, they can stop mosquitoes from reaching their human target.
Seen as a far-off goal, but considered no less important, is the creation of a malaria vaccine, even one that is partially effective. Involved in the pursuit for that vaccine’s creation is the locally based nonprofit, PATH. Through its Malaria Vaccine Initiative, PATH has received $287 million from the Gates Foundation.
But eradicating malaria is dependent not only on money from this part of the world, but also those places hardest hit.
Meg Deronghe, director of advocacy and communication for PATH’s Malaria Control and Evaluation partnership in Africa, asserts that malaria is both preventable and curable. “But the biggest issues are access and affordability,” Deronghe says.
In the case of mosquito netting, she says that in the countries where the governments can afford to, there are programs where pregnant women and mothers with children are given free nets. But in places where such governmental practices aren’t financially viable, she says “[a net] can cost the equivalent of anywhere from 50 cents to five dollars.”
In Zambia, with its annual per capital income of $360, that puts such prevention out of the reach of most.
“As with many things,” Deronghe says, “malaria is intertwined with poverty in the strongest sense.”