Humanosity says…Over history malaria has killed more humans than any other single cause. Defeating it has proved deceptively hard despite recent breakthroughs in vaccine research and controversial plans to release genetically modified sterile mosquitoes. This article looks at why it has proved so hard to beat malaria….
The Lancet Commission on malaria eradication has recently claimed that the disease could be eradicated by 2050. Considering that currently, the disease kills over 400,000 people a year, mostly children, then it’s understandable that the news caused a bit of stir.
According to the report, the key will be to harness existing and new technologies alongside an injection of an extra £1.6bn a year. However, this optimistic prognosis fails to take proper account of the underlying causes of the disease which are poverty and lack of capacity at state level.
Historically malaria wasn’t a tropical disease. It was endemic in more temperate zones like Europe. In the UK, for instance, malaria was common in the wetland areas whilst the name comes from the Italian for bad air. In the 19th century Italy the disease killed 15,000 to 20,000 people each year.
Europe only became malaria-free officially in 1975. The reasons are numerous but the factors involved include:
Increased land reclamation and improved drainage diminished the mosquitoes’ habitat; advancements in agricultural technology reduced the number of people working on the land; the rural population fell as a result of the industrial revolution and urbanisation, and improved supplies of quinine reduced the presence of the malaria parasite in its human host.
When you take the current prevalence of the disease
it is not a coincidence that Nigeria has the highest number of malaria cases in the world (53.7m cases or 25% of the global total) and the highest number of people living in extreme poverty (94.3 million). The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) comes second for both malaria burden (25m cases, 11% of the global total) and extreme poverty (60.1 million people).