Malaria Epidemic

Malaria has been and remains a deadly foe in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a child is estimated to die from its effects every 30 seconds. For millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, the whine of Anopheles gambiae is the music of death. This mosquito spreads the malaria parasite plasmodium falciparum that causes malaria. It remains a problem in the lake region and seasonally in the highlands region.

Malaria remains one of the leading killer diseases in Kenya rivaling only HIV/AIDS. The outbreak of the disease has always spell doom whenever it’s reported in the countryside leaving a trail of deaths to patients admitted to health institutions and those in the villages. Both government and private health institutions are always constrained owing to lack of facilities and drugs after outbreaks which normally affect the prone areas referred to as “Highlands”. Scientists and researchers have unsuccessfully from time immemorial attempted to discover effective drug or vaccine that would eradicate malaria in the world and more so in Sub-Saharan Africa where the malaria has caused havoc every year. Doctors admit that malaria has become resistance to drugs like chloroquine and with lack of vaccine it will continue to torment both children and adults.

However, as the battle to fight malaria intensifies, some scientists predicts that an effective malaria vaccine may be available in 10 years or so. The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) now wants the local medical authorities to consider re-introducing the DDT pesticide to fight malaria.

According KEMRI Director, Davy Koech any drug that could reduce malaria deaths by 80 per cent should be “given another thought”.

Dr Ambrose Misore, Nyanza Provincial Medical Officer, says he has no objection DDT being re-introduced to assist in the fight against malaria. He says DDT merits outweighs the demerits of the drug which is in essence is its ‘side-effect’.

Said Dr Misore:”DDT was in use for several years in the past but was phased out due to some side effect of the drug but it was effective in treating malaria”. DDT is credited with having led to the near-eradication of malaria in the west since it was discovered in 1944 by Swiss medicine Nobel Laureate Paul Harman Muller. The drug, Dr Misore, says was about 80-90 per effective with only some resistance but this can be controlled. He explains that malaria has gone down in the so-called highlands areas of Gucha, Nyamira and Kisii districts in Nyanza province and is reportedly stable in the Rift Valley region. Medical officials normally urge the population to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes, to improve mosquito repellents and the usage of mosquito nets to improve preventive measures in their environment. These are some of the precautionary measures during rainy seasons but malaria still strikes and kill the population of all ages, public health officials admit.

Last year alone more than 600 hundred people died of malaria in Rift Valley region commonly referred as “highlands” before it was controlled. “There is no cause for alarm in the highlands this time around as everything is cooling down despite unique heat in the country”, Dr Misore said.

Scientists, Dr Koech said, could employ the latest technology and available data and address the environmental concerns raised by those against its use instead of condemning it wholesale. The chemical was later banned in the US and most of Europe in the 1970’s because of its effects on the environment. Scientists have announced promising results from tests of a new treatment for malaria patients with little impact against the killer disease that affect children most. Writing in the medical journal The Lancet, the scientists, from the University of Tubingen in Germany last December said a malaria drug was administered to malaria patients in the West African State of Gabon-up to 90% of patients recovered in two weeks. However, further trials will be needed before it can be declared safe and effective éit has not yet been tested in children, who account for most malaria deaths in developing countries. World Health Organization (WHO) list HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria as the three major infectious diseases threats. According to WHO fact sheets, the infectious diseases are the leading killer of young people in developing countries and responsible for almost half of mortality in developing countries. None of these diseases has an effective vaccine to prevent infection in children and adults.

New information shows that the economic and social burden of the three diseases is staggering. For example, Africa’s GDP would be up to $100 billion greater if malaria had been eliminated years ago, according to WHO. Each of these three diseases can be prevented or treated for between $ .05 and $10.

WHO says there is need to be development assistance, for example, it is estimated that $1billion a year is required to make a difference. But the pay-off could be as much as $3-12 billion a year in terms of a boost to combined GDP of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This leaves many African countries to struggles with malaria to no end due to very low budgets for health care, lack of tools and facilities and corruption.

Joseph Ojwang is a free-lance journalist. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Kenya, Africa.