Despite progress in treating malaria, the devastating disease still exacts a heavy toll in Africa, according to various reports on Tuesday, which called for greater investment in public health infrastructure.
In a special issue spotlighting malaria and efforts to curb it, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) said “there likely will be a role for vaccine development in disease prevention”.
But for now, “new drugs appear to be few and far between”, JAMA said in its report, noting malaria remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, claiming more than one million lives every year.
The illness is the number one cause of death in children under the age of five, causing one death every 30 seconds.
Dr Catherine DeAngelis, main author of the report, said the findings point to the need for a wider, but more targeted use of anti-malarial medicine.
The articles in this issue of JAMA highlight the need for improved public health infrastructures and to make the current standard of care more widely available.
But sometimes the drugs are also over-prescribed, JAMA wrote, because the diagnosis of malaria is arrived at too often.
With some of the most effective drugs to combat the disease being prohibitively expensive, there is now a greater push to avoid misdiagnoses, JAMA reported, particularly with respect to the effective but expensive combination therapies.
Greater efforts must also be made to eradicate mosquitoes, the vector for the dread ailment, which does not even spare parts of the developed world, she said.
“Even in the United States, where endemic malaria has been eradicated for decades, an average of 1 200 cases are reported annually,” DeAngelis wrote.
The articles addressed a number of issues, including the financial and logistic challenges of implementing new technologies to combat the disease; improvement in understanding risk factors, particularly in children; and combating ever more resistant strains of malaria.
Interestingly, most of the suggestions were tried and true methods to combat the disease that have been followed for years.
“Few submitted manuscripts for this theme issue on malaria evaluated completely novel approaches to the management of this ancient disease,” DeAngelis wrote.
One of the most reliable and effective ways to combat the disease is via the use of insecticide-treated netting, which the JAMA research showed was available in far too few affected places.
A study to estimate how many insecticide-treated nets are available in African households that are at risk of malaria and how many ITNs are needed to reach targets for use by young children and pregnant women in 43 sub-Saharan African countries found that the average proportion of households possessing at least one insecticide treated net was just 6.7%.