Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Malaria marvels

I never wanted to move to Africa. As I sat in my terraced house in London, all I could think about, cradling my 7 month old baby or chasing after my two-year-old toddler, was the risk of malaria. Malaria kills. One bite from the wrong mosquito and it could be all over. The prospect of that happening to one of my children, and not noticing it in time, was terrifying.

In practice, Lusaka was largely malaria free, with the greatest risk during the rainy season (November to March) and our awareness of the symptoms meant at the first sign of fever there was a rush to be tested. We had a few dashes to the clinic for what turned out to be nothing more than a cold. By the time a test came through positive I had been there four years, my son was now six and it all was a lot more manageable. (Don't misunderstand me: I was terrified for my boy, had sleepless nights and cried a lot, but it didn't make me rush for the first plane home.)

Malaria is a killer disease and millions die of it every year. It has been said that the mosquito is man's greatest enemy because of this threat (and that of other diseases). Across the world efforts are being made to eradicate the disease. There has been talk of breeding sterile mosquitoes and work persists in trying to find a vaccine. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been supplying millions of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide. These are a first line of defence: if no-one is bitten by mosquitoes then the malaria cannot be sucked in by the insect and pushed out into the fresh blood of the next victim. Admittedly, there are many tales of the nets being used by locals as fishing nets rather than over their beds, but a saturated market must provide some level of resistance.

The fight goes on because we know the disease to be both treatable and preventable. No-one need die of it and simple measures can prevent its spread. A few months ago I shared this video with you - a marvellous piece of public education for the people of the Congo.

But the best news of all came this week: in the last decade worldwide incidences of malaria have decreased by 20%. A reduction of one fifth. Many, many millions of lives saved, quite probably most of them being children. Malaria is the largest cause of death in the under 5s, killing one child every 30 seconds. It is still prevalant in sub-saharan Africa (85% of cases) yet progress is being made. Although endemic in 108 countries, since 2007 it has been eradicated from Morocco, Turkmenistan and Armenia.

I hope that one day a vaccine will be found and this killer disease can be eradicated. In the meantime, let's celebrate the steps forward that we are making. Every life is valuable and every life saved is invaluable.


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Catharine Withenay said...

Sorry - I love comments on my blog, and will never delete genuine comments relating to my blog posts. However, I will remove blatant spam that is irrelevant and irreverent.

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