Friday, April 25, 2008

Have you smacked a mosquito today?

It’s World Malaria Day and as we STILL don’t have a vaccine, I guess us non-scientists can contribute to the fight by whacking a few of the disgusting little wretches.

Don’t get me wrong- I am really glad that this deadly parasitic disease is getting more attention. Half a billion people catch it every year. It kills a child (most likely an African child) every 30 seconds. Considering the fact that there’s a whole week devoted to Homeopathy Awareness (?), I guess we can give malaria at least one day. It has put me in the hospital three times and I am a relatively wealthy, lucky and educated person. Here in Burkina, it’s responsible for thousands of deaths every year and many lost days of work and school for those that survive it.

We are being told that a malaria vaccine will probably be ready by 2010. The good scientists at the Malaria Vaccine Initiative seem to be working hard on it. But they don’t have the kind of resources that, for example, Pfizer poured into making those little blue Viagra pills that have been on the market for 10 years now and that last year alone made them 1.7 billion dollars.
And given the way the world works, I think everybody knows that saving the lives of millions third-world people will never garner the same huge cash profits as perking up the wilting manly-bits of the wealthy.

Don't call me bitter- just call me frustrated. Malaria deaths are preventable tragedies.
And until we can make sure that fewer children die, efforts here at family planning and improving quality of life are severely hampered. It's hard to tell a couple out in an isolated village, far from decent medical care, that they should limit their family size. These people know from hard experience that deadly diseases strike hardest at small children.
With an effective and safe malaria vaccine available to everyone on the world, that would mean one less killer on the loose. And that's one less element contributing to poverty and hopelessness.

Coming up this weekend on this very blog : The Pagne Primer: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About West-African Wrap-skirts, But Were Afraid to Ask.


Wangbu said...

Hello! I am a blog reader from the Philippines. You have a beautiful site. It is worth visiting.

Benoit Lescarbeau said...

I would have tought that with the global tourism increase, there might be more incitatives for private research in the field. Especially considering the side effects of the most widely used medication. Guess I'm more of a technical guy than a business mogul..

Well, I've certainly found the solution to the problem. I bought me an electrified mosquito killing racquet! A tasteful accessory if there ever was one! Fun, exercice and sweet revenge all in one package!

Should someone going to Burkina Faso buy his treated mosquito net once in the country or buy it at home? I'm leaning towards buying it there, saves space and, well, it's always good buying local and they can't be much more expensive. Are they hard to find?

BurkinaMom said...

Hey- good observation and question!

New drugs against malaria have been developed and put on the market recently. Since 1997 we have Malarone for the tourist/short term crowd. It has few side affects and it works. BUT it is WAY too expensive for the average African. Plus it is not tested for long-term use. It is (once again!) a super-expensive drug to save the lives of the wealthy. Color me SO not surprised.
So, that's the trouble- the big companies DO research stuff for the 'global tourists'. But that is not the same target audience as the folks that really live out here in the Third World.

As for the mosquito nets- YES!! Buy them in Ouaga!! They sell them on the street in most neighborhoods. Just ask around.

Cherise said...

Hi there. I stumbled across your blog some time ago from another expat blog. Having lived in Africa in the past (but now living in the US and wishing I was living abroad), I have been intrigued.

Anyway, I'm also a former malaria researcher (now I work in public health on TB). Though I'm no friend to the drug companies and have long been frustrated with the focus of research on 'designer' drugs, in the case of malaria, I think I'm more inclined to blame the parasite itself for the lack of a useful vaccine. It's an incredibly challenging organism. In fact, in recent years a LOT of money has been thrown at it, at the expense of many other diseases (trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, etc). In the tropical disease research world, Malaria is the 'designer' disease. The parasite and the mosquitoes have just been eluding our control efforts. All that said, in Africa, due to the biting habits of the mosquitoes, bed nets, particularly treated bednets are indeed very effective if used properly.

All that said, I love your blog and it makes me long for Africa. I wish I could raise my daughter there.

BurkinaMom said...

Glad to met you, Cherise. But I feel that your comment actually PROVES what I was saying, rather than refuting it. You say that the money being "thrown" at malaria is coming at the expense of other diseases that mainly affect poor people in developing nations. So, funds are taken away from other devasting tropical diseases to fight malaria... meanwhile there is plenty to waste on something like Viagra for the wealthy.
Like I said...
Also- I have always slept with a treated net and malaria has put me in the hospital three times. So, it's not a magic bullet.

Cherise said...

Oh, I wasn't trying to refute your comments, just offer the scientist's insight into the parasite. I can't blame the lack of a vaccine entirely on the drug companies. I could rant on for ages about how research funds are put into what I think are ridiculous things. At one time the drug for trypanosomiasis was almost discontinued. Then it was discovered to be useful for hair loss. Lucky, eh?

I know bednets aren't a magic bullet, but they do reduce transmission. Not make it zero, but the likelihood is indeed reduced. I'm sorry to hear you've suffered from malaria.