malaria

 {Photo credit: Todd Shapera.}A Rwandan mother and newborn rest under a bed net.Photo credit: Todd Shapera.

Over one hundred years ago on this date, (August 20, 1897), British scientist Sir Ronald Ross discovered that infected female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. (Like any vector borne disease, the malaria-causing parasite, Plasmodium, needs a specific host: in this case, the mosquito. The female mosquito needs blood to nourish her eggs; the male just eats nectar.) Dr. Ross received the Nobel Prize for his discovery that year. Today, we mark the day, August 20, as “World Mosquito Day.”

What’s all the buzz about?

A child in sub-Saharan Africa dies every minute as a result of malaria—more than 1,400 children globally every day. Malaria affects about 220 million people, with 80 percent of all cases occurring in just 17 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 660,000 people died from the disease in 2010; most in Africa. Two countries—Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria—hold 40 percent of the burden of malaria mortality. Despite these challenges, progress is being made: since 2000, malaria mortality rates have dropped 33 percent in Africa, and 25 percent globally (more on malaria from WHO).

World Malaria Day 2013 {Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Hoibak.}Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Hoibak.

To me, malaria is a very personal disease.

I first came face to face with malaria during the war of my time: Vietnam. I was plucked out of residency after my first year, with only an internship under my belt, and sent as a Navy Medical Officer to war. Medical school and residency prepared me well for much of the trauma I encountered medically, but I was totally unprepared for the large-scale emotional trauma, and for the tropical diseases I had encountered only in books.

I was overwhelmed by the young children with malaria, some of whom literally died in my arms while treating them.  Yet, I also witnessed bona fide miracles: children at death’s door, comatose and unresponsive, who responded dramatically to treatments, and ultimately went home to their families.

To address malaria, I focused on promoting prevention (long-lasting insecticidal nets [LLINS] for families and intermittent preventive treatment [IPT] for pregnant women), early detection, and early treatment in the community—what is now called community case management.

That was 40 years ago.

Dr. Jonathan Quick, President and CEO of MSH, tours with Dr. Christian Nzitimira, director of Kibagabaga Hospital in Rwanda. {Photo credit: Jon Jay/MSH.}Photo credit: Jon Jay/MSH.

In a postoperative ward of Kibagabaga Hospital, the district hospital serving Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, Eric Bizimana sits up in bed. Bizimana, 25, had sought care after severe pain in his right leg forced him to stop work as a barber. He was diagnosed with a bone infection called osteomyelitis. Antibiotics alone couldn’t clear the infection. Without an operation to remove the diseased bone, Eric faced the possibility of losing his leg.

Eric was one of the 40 patients who enter Kibagabaga for surgery every day. In Rwanda’s tiered healthcare delivery system, patients are referred from local health centers up to the district hospital when their conditions require more complex care. Most babies are delivered at health centers, for example, but a woman suffering complications or who was expected to need a C-section would be referred to the district level.

Dr. Quick discusses Myanmar’s health system with Dr. Pe Thet Khin, the minister of health. {Photo credit: Myanmar Ministry of Health.}Photo credit: Myanmar Ministry of Health.

In Myanmar, 50 years of military dictatorship left behind a seriously underdeveloped health system, serving barely one in twenty of the country’s 60 million people. You might expect that the first minister of health under civilian rule would be despondent. But on my recent trip I found the opposite: Dr. Pe Thet Khin and his team are aligned around an ambitious vision for building a strong health system for the country.

When I worked in Smallpox eradication in the mid-1970s, I traveled all over northern India and Bangladesh. I never took malaria prophylaxis, because malaria had been cleared from those areas. Likewise, I did not take malaria prophylaxis when I worked in the Brazilian Amazon in the late-1970s. At that time, malaria was found only in gold miners in isolated tributaries of the Amazon. Now, due to our financial inability to continue high levels of malaria eradication activities worldwide in that time period, emergence of both anti-malarial and insecticide resistance, and spread of the mosquito vectors, all of these are heavily malaria endemic areas with a high mortality rate for pregnant women and children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released the World Malaria Report 2012, summarizing 2011 data from 104 malaria-endemic countries and citing progress and challenges toward the eradication of malaria.

Tanzanian woman (Photo credit: MSH)Tanzanian woman (Photo credit: MSH)

Management Sciences for Health (MSH) invites you to attend the following sessions and poster presentations at the Global Maternal Health Conference in Arusha, Tanzania --- whether in person at the Arusha International Conference Center, or watching via archived videos online. (All times are listed in Eastern Africa Time: UTC/GMT +3 hours. Sessions will be recorded and available within 24 hours.)

Sessions: Tuesday, January 15

Improving access to essential maternal health medicines (Track 3): 13:30–15:00 · Simba

Moderator: Deborah Armbruster, USAID

A community-based distribution agent discusses family planning options with a family in the DRC health zone of Ndekesha. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Cross-posted from Frontline Health Workers Coalition.

Evidence of the need to scale up the number of frontline health workers in developing countries abounds throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as described in a recent post on the Frontline Health Workers Coalition blog by Avril Ogrodnick of Abt Associates. Yet training new health workers is not sufficient, in itself, to sustainably address the crisis: governments must also invest in providing management support to harvest the full value of these trainings.

Three Afghan children. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

About 7.6 million children under age five die each year of preventable causers; 3 million — 40 percent — are newborns (under 28 days old). Ninety-nine percent of these occur in developing countries; three-quarters are mainly due to preventable causes such as neonatal conditions, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles. Many of these under-five deaths could be averted by known, affordable, low-technology interventions.

Any preventable child death is one too many.

Here are 10 important interventions for child survival --- a list that is by no means exhaustive:

  1. Exclusive breastfeeding

    Could keep 1.3 million infants from dying (including by preventing pneumonia)

  2. Long-lasting, insecticide-treated bednets

    Would save more than 500,000 children by preventing malaria

  3. Vaccines, such as PCV, Hib, and rotavirus

    Would help prevent common childhood illnesses, such as measles, and save children’s lives

  4. Micronutrient supplements, such as vitamin A and zinc

    Would fight malnutrition. (While not a direct cause of death, malnutrition contributes indirectly to more than one-third of these deaths.)

MSH President Jonathan D. Quick, age 5. {Photo courtesy of Dr. Quick.}Photo courtesy of Dr. Quick.

Cross-posted on USAID's IMPACT blog

My most vivid early childhood memory is waking up to excruciating pain in my throat, and seeing the goldfish swimming in the aquarium of the pediatric surgical ward. Although penicillin had been discovered 30 years earlier, doctors had not learned yet that treating "strep throats” with penicillin was better than operating. I didn't need the tonsillectomy. But, I was lucky to receive quality care in a health facility, close to my home.

Millions of children today are not so lucky. Over 7 million children under the age of 5 die each year; 70 percent of child deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. The vast majority -- over two-thirds -- are entirely avoidable with existing safe, effective, low-cost prevention and treatment.

A physician assesses a mother and children for malaria at a health center in Bujumbura, Burundi. {Photo credit: Rima Shretta/MSH.}Photo credit: Rima Shretta/MSH.

Today, April 25th, Management Sciences for Health (MSH) joins the global community marking World Malaria Day. "Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria" -- the theme of this year's World Malaria Day -- recognizes this crucial juncture in the global fight against malaria.

Significant gains have been made in the last ten years; since 2000, malaria mortality rates have decreased 25 percent globally, and 33 percent in Africa. However, progress could be reversed unless malaria continues to be a priority for global, regional, and national decision-makers and donors.

Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), South Sudan, and Uganda are among several MSH countries commemorating World Malaria Day with malaria awareness activities and events, including health talk sessions at football (soccer) games and drama activities with kids.

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