Malaria, a tropical disease that has been called one of the most complex health problems facing humanity in the 20th century, is at once a failure, a puzzle, and a serious challenge, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
The latest issue of PAHO's Perspectives in Health magazine notes that the fight against malaria to date has been a failure because a worldwide eradication program that began in 1956 subsequently was abandoned, but only after the expenditure of millions of dollars and the efforts of thousands of health workers. Malaria remains a puzzle because researchers have not found a vaccine after 30 years of trying. And malaria presents a challenge because it still infects 300 million people a year in the world, kills over one million of these annually, and leaves millions more sick and debilitated.
Today malaria is transmitted actively in 21 countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere. But a new program, Roll Back Malaria seeks to cut deaths from malaria in half by the year 2010, according to Dr. Renato Gusmao, malaria expert for PAHO. The plan aims to reduce malaria incidence by controlling transmission, using community health workers to help diagnose and treat the disease.
PAHO Director Dr. George Alleyne says that "Despite earlier successes in shrinking the disease's geographical boundaries, malaria control today is more difficult than ever. Much of the increased risk is linked to changes in land use, such as road-building, mining, logging, agricultural and irrigation projects, particularly in frontier areas such as the Amazon."
In a column for the magazine, Dr. Alleyne notes that the Roll Back
malaria initiative "proposes nothing less than a major assault on the disease,
backed by a unified political commitment" that requires the contribution of
"families; schools; businesses; the health, environmental, water supply and
sanitation sectors" and all those whose activities directly or indirectly affect
Contact: Daniel Epstein
Pan American Health Organization