Getting Real About Malaria

October 14th, 2008 | Sources: Economist, Nature

Is the world finally getting serious about malaria, a disease that strickens half a billion people every year, killing 1-3 million of them? Just maybe, yes.

Last week an alliance of celebrities, businesses and big donors began to implement an affordable, scalable action plan for the disease. Coincidentally, scientists shed new light on the genetics of two malaria-causing parasites.

The Global Malaria Action Plan aims to reduce the incidence of malaria from 2000 levels by 75% in seven years, and reduce mortality from the disease to nearly zero over the same time period. The United Nations supports the malaria control plan, and donors recently committed $3 billion to it, a promising start although more money is required. 

The Action Plan relies on three tactics: artemisinin-based anti-malarial drugs to treat the disease, insecticide-impregnated nets to prevent mosquitoes from biting people in bed, and pesticide spraying inside buildings. The strategy has proven to be effective during recent trials in Rwanda, Ethiopia and elsewhere.

Eradication will be harder. For that we need new tools such as a vaccine, and that does not exist right now. Enter a pair of scientific advances published in Nature this week, in which scientists in the US and England report having sequenced the entire genomes for the malaria-causing parasites Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium knowlesi respectively. These breakthroughs may well accelerate development of vaccines or drug therapies against them.


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