Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Are We Beating Malaria?

No human parasitic disease has ever been eradicated (although we may be close to eradicating Guinea Worm), but if ever there was a target, it would be malaria. Keeping an eye on the news and medical journals convinces me that there has never been more activity in scientific research aimed at understanding the parasites that cause malaria and finding ways to thwart them. Researchers have tried to develop malaria resistant mosquitoes. They’ve uncovered how the parasites invade red blood cells. They’ve investigated enzymes and proteins essential to the parasite’s survival. They’ve developed novel drugs. Hardly a day goes by when there is not something new. One might think we’re on the cusp of success.

Progress in Eradicating Malaria

But the reality is still grim. If you look at the statistics, you see that things are not really changing, at least not yet. Maps released by the Malaria Atlas Project allow us to roughly compare 2007 with 2010, and though there are clearly some changes (WHO statistics do indicate that the total number of malaria cases has dropped over the last decade), in the big picture they are minor changes that could easily reverse themselves.

This is discouraging. I wonder how long it will take for all this new research to provide us with a successful (and likely multi-pronged) approach to loosening the grip of this terrible disease.

Clinical burden of Plasmodium falciparum map in 2007 globally. CC BY 3.0

The spatial limits of Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission
map in 2010 globally. CC BY 3.0

There are many maps on the Malaria Atlas Project site. Anyone interested in this should have a look.

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