herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

No end in sight for malaria battle

Eliminating malaria remains completely unrealistic, warn experts.

But that view contrasts sharply with announcements by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organisation, which aims to rid the world of the disease.

"Far from being brave, the rhetoric around eliminating malaria is often naive," said Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal Lancet.

"For sub-Saharan Africa, it's a hopelessly impossible target for now," he said, pointing to the continent's weak health systems and chronic medicines shortage, among other problems.

The idea of eliminating the mosquito-borne scourge which kills more than 860,000 people a year was examined in the Lancet. Experts analysed issues like the practicalities of wiping out malaria and its financial costs.

Getting rid of malaria will be far pricier than controlling it, and economists warned that higher costs would not necessarily be offset by future savings.

Although research suggests wiping out the parasitic disease may be feasible in Latin America and Asia, it will be nearly impossible in Africa, where most of the world's estimated 247 million yearly cases occur.

Malaria is treatable if caught early but is especially deadly in children under five, who make up most of its victims.

One of the main stumbling blocks toward elimination is the lack of a malaria vaccine.

The most promising candidate is still being tested, but at best it is only about 50pc effective.

In comparison, the four vaccines being used to eradicate polio -- an initiative under way for more than two decades -- work about 95pc of the time.

Other experts said since more than 70 countries including Britain, Italy, the US and Singapore have already eliminated malaria, much can be accomplished with existing tools like bed nets and drugs.

Because malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, eliminating the disease will be tricky. Unlike viruses spread only by humans, like polio, getting rid of malaria permanently means erasing it from billions of mosquitoes.

hnews@herald.ie

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