Africa

Muscle to Fight Malaria Receives a $3 Billion Surge

GPS System Used to Track Reports of Malaria Outbreaks. Data on mosquito populations are entered into the GPS system in the Kisumu area of Kenya, allowing researchers to create maps based on numbers of reported cases. (Photo: Karen Kasmauski / Getty Images)

When in September 2008, the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals converged in New York, the multicultural city, and home to the UN: the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and other World Leaders, including Irish activist U2’s Bono, espoused to raise the bar very high in the aggressive war against Malaria. The announcement that the muscle to fight the disease will receive a surge in funding of about $3 billion was plausible news, giving oxygen and optimism to those affected with the disease, globally. Malaria infects about 300-500 million people resulting in the premature deaths of about 1-1.5 million people, yearly, especially in Africa. Brown characterized the launching of a strategy a real and vital turning point, which brings together a new coalition of forces – government, the private sector and NGOs – ensuring we all rise to the challenge of eradicating malaria deaths by 2015.

The biggest chunk of funding $1.62 bn comes from Global Fund, an institution which finances the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The World Bank is investing $1.1 bn into Africa over 3 years. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation commitment is $168.7 million. While British Department for International Development pledged $ 73.5 million to support the affordable medicines facility for malaria: with an additional $ 9.1 million to provide bed nets for 20 million out of the 125 million needed in affected areas. The rest of the funding will come from various philanthropists.

Once a global disease, malaria is now confined to Africa, Asia and Latin America, where controlling the disease is thwarted by poor and inadequate structures or health facilities and poor socioeconomic factors. Increased resistance to outmoded drugs makes the disease more complex to defeat. But that is about to change with the new strategy, additional funding and invigorating muscle. Malaria is caused by the protozoan parasites of the genus plasmodium, divided into four species namely:

  • Plasmodium Falciparum
  • Plasmodium Vivax
  • Plasmodium Ovale
  • Plasmodium Malaria

Plasmodium Falciparum is the most widespread and dangerous parasite, and if left untreated leads to cerebral malaria fatality. The parasite is transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito. Growing up in Sierra Leone, I’ve experienced first hand several bouts with malaria, making me weak, nauseated or lethargic. The experience forced me to become passionate and more educated about this terrible disease.

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Together with the dip pocket spending is some reassurance from African leaders that the efforts are working. President Paul Kagame, of Rwanda, said malaria deaths have fallen by more than 60% in his country. World Bank is focusing on the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, where 30%-40% of all malaria deaths occur. Bank president Robert Zoellick said that endemic malaria also had serious financial consequences for families.

"What we have done.... is try to estimate how much money is awarded to countries according to how many people live at risk," said Prof Robert Snow at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, "What we can say at this stage is there isn't enough for a minimum package of interventions ...They are often getting much less than a dollar per person at risk and we know that you need at a bare minimum $4."

"Malaria preys on the poor and keeps them poor. Poverty prevents people from buying bed nets to prevent malaria and medicine to cure it," he said. "When people are struck by the disease, parents miss work, children miss school and malaria emergencies plunge families into debt from which they can't recover," an expert said.

Bed nets, sprays and artemisinin drugs, extracted from the Chinese wormwood plant, have all contributed to reduce malaria rates in some smaller countries. But a vaccine could become the miraculous game changer. A new vaccine is almost at the final trials, which is being tested on 16,000 babies aged 5 to 17 months in a number of countries, seven of them are in Africa. This is the result of a public and private partnership by Glaxo Smith Kline Biological, with support from the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI). It is capable of reducing malaria cases by 30% and reduces by half the number of children infected with severe malaria.

Christian Loucq, director of MVI, said the new vaccine, currently known only as RTS,S, could be available by 2013: If it is swiftly approved by the European licensing authority and then the World Health Organization. This is very likely. But funds from the Gates Foundation are in recognition of MVI's plans to challenge researchers to develop an improved vaccine.

"I'm very hopeful that the malaria vaccine currently in advanced testing will be proven effective, but that will just be the first step," said Bill Gates. "Now it's time to develop a new generation of vaccines that could someday eradicate malaria altogether."

According to Global Malaria Action Plan’s (Gmap) projections, more than 4.2 million lives can be saved between 2008 and 2015, if its plan is executed, the foundation can be laid for a longer-term strategy to eradicate the disease.

A recent study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences renders hope that new types of treatment therapy can extend the effectiveness of anti-malaria drugs, benefiting victims of a disease that devastates countries around the world. Researchers at Resources for the Future find that employing multiple first-line therapies against malaria leads markedly to improved outcomes for malaria victims, over standard practice of providing the same anti-malarial treatment to all patients.

Rock Star and activist Bono’s passion and compassion to help reduce poverty, preventing and curing infectious diseases that affect mostly poor and third world countries is finally catching fire on the global stage. Invariably, most poor people live on less that $1 a day. He has been instrumental promoting issues that are near and dear to his heart, especially in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. His message is vital to human existence and dignity. He believes that developed nations like United Stated, United Kingdom or Germany should pay more attention to dire needs of less fortunate or developing nations: in areas like health care and diseases control, including food security. The less hopeless and poverty-stricken people around the world feel, the less likely they would engage in terrorist activities and violence around the world. International terrorism costs some developed nations a fortune, to keep up with endless runaway investment. But love is caring and sharing. It is the power of our example rather than the example of our power that nurses the capacity to change the world. Jack London’s quote below illuminates the need for the haves to become more receptive to the needs of the have-nots.

"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.

Roland Bankole Marke © 2008

Roland B. Marke is a Florida based author, poet and songwriter of Sierra Leonean heritage. Marke has published 3 books; Teardrops Keep Falling, Silver Rain and Blizzard and Harvest of Hate; Stories and Essays (Fuel for the Soul).

Website: www.Rolandmarke.com

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