John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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More than you may want to know about malaria

I applied for a Federal job today, and for reasons not entirely clear to me I was asked to provide a writing sample in the form of "an essay (about 500 words) on a subject of major current international interest." Weird, but whatever. Here's what I wrote. Probably not my strongest work, but I think it's pretty OK for a couple hours work.

Malaria is one of the biggest threats facing the developing world. Globally, it affects 247 million people annually; 85 percent of those cases, and 91 percent of the deaths, are in Africa, where it is the leading cause of death among children younger than five. And while malaria is both preventable and relatively easy to treat, it remains endemic in more than one hundred countries around the world, and there has been little noticeable change in at-risk areas in the last fifteen years.

Malaria and poverty are closely linked. Not only does it disproportionately affect poor women and children, it also causes poverty and stands in the way of economic development in those countries most heavily affected by the disease. In Africa alone, thanks to health care costs, diminished productivity, and loss of investment and tourism, the disease costs twelve billion dollars annually. As long as malaria is allowed to run rampant, the countries that are most heavily affected stand little chance of improving their economic situation.

Adding to the cost is the increasing prevalence of malarial strains that are resistant to antibiotics. The cheapest and historically most effective drug used to treat malaria is chloroquine; unfortunately, chloroquine-resistant malaria pathogens have recently spread from Asia to parts of Africa, greatly decreasing its effectiveness and increasing the cost of treatment in those areas.

Malaria is both preventable and relatively easy to treat, but the cost necessary to do so is immense. While the individual cost of treating the disease is fairly low -- Médecins Sans Frontières estimates the cost of treating a person with malaria is between $0.25 and $2.50 -- and it can be prevented for as little as ten dollars per person, those costs multiply quickly, adding up to a total global cost, according to some estimates, of $4.2 billion annually.

Malaria is far too vast a problem for any one organization to treat. A wide variety of non-governmental organizations exist to combat particular aspects of the problem. Médecins Sans Frontières provides medical care to those affected with the disease; the Institute for OneWorld Health researches and develops new pharmaceutical treatments; Nothing But Nets supplies and trains people in the use of mosquito bed nets; the ONE Campaign attacks the problem indirectly by combating poverty. Various international agencies, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program, UNICEF, and the World Bank bring money and logistical support to the table.

An international partnership, Roll Back Malaria, was formed in 1998 to coordinate the activities of these and hundreds of other organizations, and to develop a comprehensive plan for the treatment and control of this deadly disease. Progress is slow, but history has shown that with persistence and hard work, malaria can be all but eliminated. RBM and its member organizations have shown they have both the willingness to do that work and the patience to see it though, giving hope that in time, this deadly disease can finally be eliminated.

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