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Malaria eradication battle may backfire

29th October 2010

A new report suggests that efforts to eradicate malaria may be a waste of time, and that resources may be better used in controlling the mosquito-borne disease.

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The series of articles in The Lancet medical journal says effort and resources should focus on on shrinking the global area where malaria still prevails.

Its authors include Richard Feacham of the University of California's Global Health Group, together with researchers from the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

The Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton and executive editor Pamela Das said in a editorial that this approach could save more lives in the long run.

They estimate that 1.14 million children's lives could be saved by 2015 in sub-Saharan Africa alone, if resources were diverted from eradication programmes to existing control efforts.

They said the finding was important, because the quest for elimination should not be allowed to detract from existing malaria control work.

Malaria, they conclude, will only be truly eradicable when an effective vaccine is fully available.

Robert Newman, director of the WHO's Global Malaria Programme, said that the WHO would continue to support countries where malaria was endemic, in their efforts to control and eliminate malaria.

He said the elimination of malaria from countries and regions with low-to-moderate transmission intensity, and where health systems were strong, was feasible.

Tropical Africa would require more potent tools and stronger health systems, however, because they had high and stable intensity of transmission.

Malaria is still endemic in 99 countries, although the part of the world where it is endemic has shrunk in the past 150 years.

Health authorities in 32 countries are trying to eradicate the disease, while the rest are focused on controlling it.

The eradication target was set for the world by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007, and the WHO's Director-General Margaret Chan endorsed it.

But such a goal, while a noble one, could lead to dangerous swings in funding and political commitment, The Lancet report said.

And it slammed the WHO for failing to rise to its responsibilities to give the malaria community essential direction.

Malaria, while largely preventable and curable, caused a million deaths in 2008 alone, mostly among African children.

Caused by five species of a parasite that can be carried from human to human by mosquitoes, the disease can lie low in the body for up to a year before symptoms become apparent.

 

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