Debunking the malaria myth

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Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter, which took on three persistent myths that block progress for the poor. In the same spirit, this week we’re debunking six myths that impede progress in global health. Today we take on:

Malaria will always be with us.

Mythbuster: Dr. Kent Campbell, director of PATH’s Malaria Control Program.

Dr. Kent Campbell sees a future free of the threat of malaria. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Dr. Kent Campbell sees a future free of the threat of malaria. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Malaria, transmitted by mosquitoes, has been sickening and killing people literally forever. It’s been happening for so long, in fact, that many communities have come to believe that malaria is just a fact of life. They’ve come to accept as inevitable the immense health toll that the disease extracts—killing children, sapping the strength of adults, and impeding social and economic development. And tragically, until recently this perception was true.

But during the past decade, we’ve made dramatic progress in fighting the disease. Major infusions of financial and political support have reinvigorated national malaria programs across sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by the disease. These programs have supported massive efforts to protect millions of people with insecticide-treated bednets, treatments, diagnostics, and other lifesaving tools. The result? In just a short period of time, malaria rates in young children have been cut by more than 50 percent, resulting in more than 3.3 million lives saved from the disease. By the late 1990s, this global effort also completely eliminated transmission of the disease in ten countries, with nine more on the way to achieving that status.

Photo: PATH.

Photo: PATH.

On to elimination

Bolstered by these successes, governments in sub-Saharan Africa are now committing resources in partnership with global funders to pursue the ambitious goal of malaria elimination. These governments are working with key partners like PATH to leverage new tools and strategies to accelerate the fight to eliminate the disease in some of the most difficult to reach places. And science is on our side: with innovative strategies, effective new drugs—including the promise of a single-dose cure—powerful point-of-care diagnostics, and the encouraging potential of vaccine candidates, we are fighting the malaria parasite better and smarter than ever before.

So how do we know that we can defeat malaria? Because we are already doing it. The disease has long been an unacceptable burden on many of the poorest countries in the world, but together, we are working to make malaria history.

PATH’s mythbuster series:

Women don’t need a condom.

Diseases like cancer don’t affect low-income countries.

Diarrhea is rarely fatal.

Women don’t die in childbirth anymore.

There aren’t enough lifesaving ideas.

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