Lecture inspires hope to eradicate malaria
Elena Gacek | Thursday, October 2, 2014
Nahlen’s presentation began with an image of a mosquito, and he highlighted how the insect is the most dangerous animal in the world because it carries malaria, he said.
“Globally, malaria is estimated to account for about 8 percent of [deaths of children under age five] … and of this 8 percent, 90 percent of those deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa,” Nahlen said.
The disease has been shown to increase poverty in affected areas.
“Economists have estimated annual loss of growth due to malaria of up to 1.3 percent per year,” Nahlen said.
Malaria is both preventable and treatable, and research into more effective methods of treatment is ongoing, Nahlen said. The greatest obstacle to eradication and elimination, though, lies in the realm of policy.
“It’s a sausage machine – what you may think in one situation would be a game-changer may not be in another,” he said. “Researchers and decision-makers continue to work in quite different spheres, and that gap is manifested by stereotypes on both sides and also by assumptions about how decisions are made.”
Even so, Nahlen said he believes the fight against malaria can and will be successful.
“Are we being overly optimistic about the whole eradication [and] elimination?” he said. “Probably. However, we are optimists. I think the thing [that] is different now [is] that there’s consensus on attacking tools; there’s a consensus on a global plan; there’s a mechanism for department coordination; there’s new program partnerships.
“There’s greater community involvement; there’s highest-level political commitment. New tools are being developed … [and] some of this will happen within the next couple of years.”
After summarizing the current scientific standards for assessing and treating malaria in Africa, Nahlen tasked the students researchers in attendance with the challenge of increasing communication with those who dictate policy.
“It’s important to craft the message,” Nahlen said. “The message needs to derive from the data. It needs to help decision-makers understand the implications surrounding policy decisions. … Politics are politics. Some political leaders may have their own priorities – policy-making is not linear. … This [communication gap between science and politics] is what I think it’s worth spending some time on figuring out why this happens.”