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Closing the net on malaria

For many of us, mosquitoes are merely irritants with wings. But for approximately 3.3 billion people (about half of the world's population) living in the tropics and subtropics, the high-pitched drone of a mosquito could portend a deadly malaria infection.

Though potentially fatal, we can treat and prevent malaria. Efforts are being made to control, and possibly eradicate the disease, as was done with smallpox. But malaria has several aspects that make it challenging to stamp out.

Sepideh Modrek, PhD, an instructor of medicine at Stanford, joined lead author Jenny Liu, PhD, MPP, and her University of California, San Francisco team to address this pesky problem in the debut issue of The Lancet Global Health. They write:

Should we eradicate malaria? Yes, because the alternative policies are untenable. If the world is not going to commit to progressive elimination leading to eventual global eradication, what is it going to commit to? Imagine a world in which the goal was merely to control malaria—ie, reduce it to a level at which it is no longer a major public health problem. In countries with good malaria control, pockets of malaria will be left in poor and marginalised populations, whereas in other regions, like the humid tropics of Africa, control programmes will struggle to keep malaria cases and deaths low. The remaining parasite reservoirs are likely to become drug-resistant and the local vectors insecticide-resistant. These enduring pockets will be the source of malaria that is introduced into receptive, malaria-free areas elsewhere. Thus, malaria-free countries will need to continually maintain expensive vigilance and response programmes to prevent resurgence of drug-resistant parasites.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 219 million cases of malaria were reported in 2010. Of these cases, about 660,000 people died from the disease.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: U.S. AIDS czar coming to Stanford to discuss global health, Scientists develop technique to deliver dried vaccines to the skin without a needle, Compound clogs Plasmodium’s in-house garbage disposal, hitting malaria parasite where it hurtsUsing cell phone data to track and fight malaria and Image of the Week: Malaria developing

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