Significant, but Fragile, Gains In the Fight Against Malaria

Marie Levy

January 2015 Lablogatory post

In recent months it seems that the only news stories about sub-Saharan Africa presented by western media are about Ebola. There are some bright spots in that news, but in general it is scary and saddening. Lost in the Ebola shuffle, however, is some good news about the fight against malaria. A recently released report from the WHO Global Malaria Programme states that worldwide the malarial mortality rate fell by 47% between 2000 and 2013 and currently 55 countries are on track to reduce their malarial burden by 75% by 2015. Those are exciting numbers. The report attributes these improvements to increased use of insecticide treated bed nets, accurate diagnostic testing, and increasingly effective drug therapies.

Accurate diagnostic testing means that the lab is playing a crucial role in the fight against malaria. Data from 2013 shows an increase in the use of diagnostic tests in sub-Saharan Africa. This supports additional data that shows there has been a shift from presumptive treatment to diagnostic treatment.

As a public health community, however, we cannot become complacent. The WHO report states that, in Africa, over 43,000 children die from malaria each year, 15 million pregnant women do not have access to preventative treatment, and over 200 million people live in households without access to insecticide treated bed nets.   Drug and insecticide resistance is a serious concern (thus underscoring the importance of accurate diagnostic testing to prevent presumptive treatment that can contribute to drug resistance). In the West African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak, health care resources have all been directed towards the fight against Ebola leaving them vulnerable to increases in other disease occurrence. If nothing else, however, the Ebola outbreak has provided a reason and impetus for discussions surrounding the importance of health systems strengthening. Strengthening that will not only fight future outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola, but will improve health care networks for every day care and treatment.

Thus, in the spirit of the holidays, let’s celebrate this good news. But while doing so, let’s also continue the fight and keep up the good work.

Links for further reading:

http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/144852/2/9789241564830_eng.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/opinion/sunday/fragile-gains-against-malaria.html?_r=0

http://kff.org/news-summary/significant-global-gains-made-against-malaria-but-ebola-threatens-progress-in-west-africa-who-report-says/

Levy

-Marie Levy spent over five years working at American Society for Clinical Pathology in the Global Outreach department.

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