Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy World Malaria Day

Tomorrow marks the second annual World Malaria Day, dedicated to raising awareness of the worldwide campaign to fight malaria.  President Obama recently stated his commitment to ending malaria deaths by 2015, and he has some valuable allies in the fight; Bill Gates announced his dedication in 2007.

The cause is noble, since approximately 250 million people contract malaria every year, and a million of the cases lead to death.  But malaria differs in some key ways from smallpox, and thus global eradication would be a very different process.  First and foremost, we still haven't developed a reliable vaccine for the disease (which is caused by protozoan parasites), although the search is on (various treatments and preventive drugs do exist, though).  Second, while variola only affected humans, and thus could only be transmitted from human to human, malaria is spread by mosquitoes, which means an eradication campaign may even require the eradication--or at least containment--of mosquitoes.  

Despite these difficulties, many argue that global eradication is possible--just look at the U.S. and other countries where malaria no longer exists--but there still exist doubts as to whether total eradication similar to that of variola is even possible, since the parasite could theoretically reappear with the right conditions (hence the potential need for eliminating mosquitoes).  Vigilant vaccination and treatment might thus be a more prudent approach than a worldwide eradication campaign.

Loads of information on the debate is easily accessible, and it's a pretty interesting one. Here's the brief article that spurred my interest.

-Andrew Beck

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