Malaria’s burden preventable, activist says

According to Deputy U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator Bernard Nahlen, international aid can hep prevent many malaria deaths.
According to Deputy U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator Bernard Nahlen, international aid can hep prevent many malaria deaths. Photo by Creative Commons.

Bernard Nahlen, Deputy U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator, said the future of the fight against malaria is looking bright due to international aid.

Nahlen spoke to a group of around 40 Yale students and faculty members Monday night at the last lecture of the Global Health Seminar, a class at the School of Public Health. His talk dealt with the toll malaria takes on the world today, the problems with current treatment methods and the long-term impact of the disease. Nahlen said initiatives such as the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, an umbrella organization that coordinates global anti-malaria activities, have contributed substantially to reduced malaria mortality rates, and that continuing aid could produce a vaccine for the disease as early as 2014.

Nahlen said that many malaria deaths could be avoided if more money were spent on aid. For example, one child dies ever 45 second due to malaria, often because of a lack of infrastructure and facilities.

“This should be unacceptable,” Nahlen said. “A lot of these kids end up dying in hospitals because they don’t have the resources.”

Nahlen said most people do not die from their first exposure to malaria, but instead from the combined effects of multiple infections. At peak biting season, the summer months, a single child could receive five to six infective bites per night. Even if the disease is eradicated from the child’s system, it weakens the body’s ability to produce healthy red blood cells and fight off future infections, he said.

In addition to causing numerous deaths, the disease can stunt economic growth, Nahlen said. He said that malaria costs most African nations an estimated 1.3 percentage points of annual GDP by decreasing productivity, adding up to one-fifth of their GDP over 15 years.

Nahlen added that because African mosquitoes are more likely to target humans than mosquitoes in other geographic areas, where they might target livestock or wild animals instead, the disease spreads more easily in Africa.

He said the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, jointly launched in 1998 by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, has been making significant strides to combat the disease’s spread. The main effort of the organization is distributing bed nets treated with mild insecticides, which can kill disease-bearing mosquitoes before they have a chance to bite the sleeping victim, Nahlen said.

Since Roll Back’s inception in 1998, it has prevented 736,000 malaria deaths, mostly through the increase in insecticide-treated bed nets, he estimated.

“It does look very promising. It’s probably not good enough yet … but it’s a great first step,” Nahlen said.

Bethy Mekommen SPH ’15, a student from Ethiopia, said Nahlen’s talk made her more likely to work with malaria aid when she returns home to work after graduation.

“I was trying to get an impression of what global organizations were doing with malaria, and I think I got it,” she said.

Global Health Leadership Institute Executive Director Mike Skonieczny, one of the faculty advisors for the Global Health Seminar, said Nahlen’s lecture was held this week to coincide with National Malaria Day, which is April 25. The Institute was founded in 2009 as an offshoot of the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, and focuses on studying and promoting worldwide public health issues.

Along with Skonieczny, professor of medicine and epidemiology Gerald Friedland also serves as a faculty advisor to the Global Health Seminar.

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