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Defeating Malaria

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Pageant News 16 December 2010

An article in the Guardian newspaper (UK), on 15 December 2010, states that the opportunity to end all deaths from malaria by 2015 is within our reach (see the online article). The recently published World Health Organisation's World Malaria Report for 2010 states that global malaria-related deaths have fallen from 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009. (download the report) In 11 African countries, the malaria burden has dropped by more than 50% over the same time period. The article warns that these gains are fragile, and while we have a real opportunity to end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015, it could still slip through our fingers. An article in the Daily Observer (Gambia), in September, reports on the massive progress made in The Gambia by the National Malaria Control Programme, with deaths down by 90% and a 74% reduction in admissions. (see the online article)

There are many weapons in the fight against malaria. Some focus on the mosquitoes which spread the malarial parasite, some preventing mosquitoes getting at people and some on fighting the disease once someone has contracted malaria.

Eliminating or just reducing numbers of mosquitoes presents some difficult challenges, and can have unintended environmental side effects as when DDT was used indiscriminately some 50 years ago. The Gambian programme has made great use of 'Indoor Residual Spraying' where the interiors of dwellings are treated with insecticide, keeping them mosquito free for up to six months. DDT can be used for this, as only small amounts get into the general environment. However, the possible adverse human health and environmental effects of exposure must be carefully weighed against the benefits.

A recent development is the breeding of sterile male mosquitoes. When these are released in large numbers, they mate with females, but produce no offspring, and the mosquito population can be severely reduced or even eliminated in a matter of weeks. Males do not bite, and can't pass on malaria, so releasing large numbers of sterile males cannot make things worse. Full scale trials are in progress. Recently this technique was used in the Cayman Islands to try to wipe out mosquitoes which carry dengue fever, and it achieved an 80% reduction in mosquito numbers. (further details)

The most cost effective way of stopping mosquitoes getting at their human victims is by using mosquito nets. These are very effective in protecting young children, who are the most vulnerable. Pageant has been supplying poor families with these nets for many years. Nets have a limited life and need to be replaced after three years to maintain their effectiveness, so there are always families in urgent need of nets. You can help by purchasing mosquito nets as an ethical gift. (See our list of ethical gifts for details)

However, people can't be protected by nets all the time, and as long as mosquitoes carry the disease, many people will continue to get infected. Traditional anti-malaria drugs are too expensive for widespread and continued use in poor countries. A low cost but effective treatment is the use of a tea made from the leaves of Artemisia annua. Pageant is involved in a programme to help village communities grow this herb, so they have an effective remedy to hand at all times. (read more about the Artemisia Project) You can help us with this project by clicking the 'donate' button near the bottom of that page.

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