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Lecturer highlights the importance of malaria prevention

| Monday, September 21, 2015

Last Friday, the George B. Craig Memorial Lecture series welcomed Tom Burkot of the Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine at James Cook University to speak about malaria and malaria prevention.

George B. Craig established a world-renowned research program in mosquito biology and genetics at the Notre Dame before he died in 1995, according the College of Science webpage. The lecture series dedicated to Craig annually hosts a speaker to discuss research related to Craig’s studies.

Burkot, who researched with Craig from 1974 to 1976, said Craig was an important scientist and likened him to Sir Ronald Ross, the man who discovered that mosquitos transmitted malaria.

After moving backward through time, Burkot said he wanted to move forward for the rest of the lecture, by discussing the history of malaria prevention. After Ross’ discovery in the early 1900s, Burkot said the first major step toward malaria prevention was the discovery of the insecticide DDT in 1939.

By 1955, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution that directed the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch a program to eliminate malaria worldwide, Burkot said. The method for eradication, he said, was spraying DDT on the inside of the walls of houses.

“This was a huge military-like operation. In India alone, they had 390 National Malaria Eradication units … [and] 96,000 people in India working to eradicate malaria,” Burkot said. “To give you an idea of how much DDT was being used, USAID (United Stats Agency for International Development) was purchasing 60 million pounds of DDT for malaria control at the height of the program.”

Though the program failed to completely eradicate malaria worldwide, Burkot said it achieved elimination in 11 out of 52 countries and partial elimination in another 11 countries.

Burkot said the next preventative measure came in the 1980s when insecticide treated nets (ITNs) were created. These nets, which were treated with insecticides and placed around the beds in the home, were an important creation for the prevention of malaria, Burkot said.

“[An ITN] had the ability of protecting people, even if they were just in the house and not sleeping underneath the net,” Burkot said. “In fact, it was also shown … that there was a mass killing affect.

“If you had high usage of these nets in the village you could actually decrease the mosquito population to the extent that there would be a lowering of the transmission of malaria in an adjacent village that didn’t have the nets. If you had full net coverage you could prevent about 370,000 child deaths per year from malaria.”

Burkot said ITNs and indoor residual spraying — spraying the inside the walls of homes — are methods of malaria control that work and thus are still currently being used.

Looking into the future, Burkot said the goal is a 90 percent reduction of malaria incidence and mortality rates by 2030 through universal access to long lasting nets and indoor residual spraying. Though there are many challenges to these two methods, Burkot said there are new tools being developed to help reach this goal.

“I’m an optimist,” Burkot said. “I think that malaria eradication is achievable. I think there are significant challenges to be faced in the coming years, but I think they are not insurmountable, and with the resources we have available, I think we can eliminate malaria.”

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About Emma Borne

Emma Borne started as a news writer for the Observer in Fall 2013. She is a senior majoring in Sociology and Peace Studies. She loves writing for the Observer because it allows her to participate in campus life in a way that she otherwise wouldn't and because she gets to work with some super talented, awesome people!

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