Friday, 26 May 2017

Safer Solutions for Combating Malaria

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The global fight against malaria is centered on insecticide application and distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, along with anti-malaria drugs and new malaria vaccines. But both mosquitoes and parasites are developing drug resistance, and the spraying of toxic insecticides is not a safe or sustainable solution.

It's likely, too, that malaria vaccines will prove to be lacking in effectiveness. Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Germany has called for safer, non-chemical means of targeting this disease, with significant impacts seen during a pilot program in West Africa.

The program began by increasing residents' knowledge and awareness of the sources of malaria. This included sharing strategies for reducing mosquito breeding sites, as many of the villagers were unaware that potential breeding sites existed nearby in areas of food waste, refuse and standing water.
Villagers were educated about how to help prevent indoor mosquito infestations via cleaning and garbage removal, as well as how to cover outdoor wells and septic tanks with lids. Fish were introduced to certain areas to help with mosquito larval control. The local health center was also educated on how to better treat malaria, leading to a significant drop in school absenteeism due to the disease, from up to 30 percent from 2009 to 2011 down to 4.6 percent in 2012. As PAN International noted:

"The only effective and sustainable way to control malaria in the long term is through integrated vector management, which deploys a range of methods and emphasizes non-chemical approaches with pesticides used as a last resort to minimize the buildup of pesticide resistance."

Indeed, a study published in the journal Pathogens and Global Health also found that maternal education had a significant effect on childhood malaria — even more so than a vaccine.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the prevalence of malaria among children of mothers with no education was 30 percent, compared to 17 percent in those with mothers who received primary education and 15 percent among those with mothers educated beyond the primary years. Senior author Michael Hawkes, assistant professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, told Hindustan Times:

"The World Health Organization is rolling out a new vaccine in countries across Africa that has an efficacy of about 30 percent … But children whose mothers are educated beyond the primary level have a 53 percent reduction in their malaria rates."

While the pharmaceutical industry is certainly pinning their hopes on a malaria vaccine taking off, it's important to remember that malaria once occurred in the U.S. as well, but was eliminated without the use of vaccines. How? Karl Tupper of PAN North America said in a press release:

"It was improved sanitation, environmental management and access to health care that beat malaria in the U.S. — not DDT … Rising standards of living were also key — bringing things like screened windows to rural areas in the southern states of the U.S. where the malaria problem was the worst."

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