UN: Possible to eradicate malaria, but probably not soon

The parasitic disease kills about 435,000 people every year, mostly children in Africa. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 23 August 2019

UN: Possible to eradicate malaria, but probably not soon

  • Dr. Pedro Alonso, the UN health agency’s global malaria director, said WHO is “unequivocally in favor” of eradication
  • An eradication campaign was first attempted in 1955 before being abandoned more than a dozen years later

LONDON: The World Health Organization says it’s theoretically possible to wipe out malaria, but probably not with the flawed vaccine and other control methods being used at the moment.
Dr. Pedro Alonso, the UN health agency’s global malaria director, said WHO is “unequivocally in favor” of eradication, but that major questions about its feasibility remain. In a press briefing on Thursday, Alonso acknowledged that “with the tools we have today, it is most unlikely eradication will be achieved.”
Alonso was presenting the results of a WHO-commissioned report evaluating if eradicating malaria should be pursued. He said the experts concluded lingering uncertainties meant they were unable to formulate a clear strategy and thus, couldn’t propose a definitive timeline or cost estimate for eradication.
WHO has long grappled with the idea of erasing malaria from the planet. An eradication campaign was first attempted in 1955 before being abandoned more than a dozen years later. For decades, health officials were chastened from even discussing eradication — until the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation threw its considerable resources behind the idea.
Smallpox is the only human disease to ever have been eradicated. In 1988, WHO and partners began a global campaign that aimed to wipe out polio by 2000. Despite numerous effective vaccines and billions of invested dollars, efforts have stalled in recent years and officials have repeatedly missed eradication targets.
Although several African countries began immunizing children against malaria in national programs this year, the shot only protects about one third of children who get it. The parasitic disease kills about 435,000 people every year, mostly children in Africa.
“An effective vaccine is something we desperately need if we’re ever going to get malaria under control and we just don’t have it,” said Alister Lister, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Lister also raised concerns about whether malaria programs would be able to raise the billions needed given other competing eradication campaigns, like those for polio, guinea worm and lymphatic filariasis.
“Should we really be pushing for malaria or should we concentrate on getting some of those other diseases out of the way first?” he asked.
Other experts agreed that eradicating malaria in the coming years seems aspirational.
“It’s a long game and there will be many bumps on the road,” said Sian Clarke, co-director of the malaria center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Still, Clarke said that eradication might only be achieved if there is a sense of urgency, given how malaria spreads; the parasitic disease is transmitted to people by mosquitoes.
“The longer it takes, the more opportunity there is for the parasite to evolve,” she said. “There will be a lot of pressure on the parasite to evolve a mechanism of survival, so this is something that if it’s to be done, should be done relatively quickly.”


Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

Updated 42 min 39 sec ago

Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

  • Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before
  • Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island

ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in Monday at a Buddhist temple revered by his core Sinhalese nationalist supporters, following an election victory that triggered fear and concern among the island’s Tamil and Muslim minority communities.

Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before, seven months after deadly Islamist attacks rocked the country.

The former defense secretary is lauded by his majority Sinhala-Buddhist community for leading a no-holds-barred military campaign that crushed Tamil rebels and ended a 37-year separatist war in 2009 when his brother was president.

Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island.

He did so facing the temple’s stupa, which is the tallest in Sri Lanka and dates back more than two millennia.

The imposing structure is said to have been built by a Sinhalese king who is venerated by Sri Lanka’s Buddhists for vanquishing an invading south Indian Tamil ruler.
Around 40,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly killed at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Saturday’s election saw the country’s Tamils, who account for about 15 percent of the population, vote overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa.

During his brother’s 2005-15 presidency Gotabaya had unfettered control over security forces, while “death squads” that abducted dozens of dissidents, opponents, journalists and others also allegedly reported to him.

Many people were never found again after being bundled into feared white vans, while some were killed and dumped by roadsides. Rajapaksa has denied any involvement.

He has resisted international calls to investigate the alleged war crimes.

At his only press conference during a three-month election campaign, Rajapaksa reiterated that he will not allow Sri Lankan troops to be tried by any war-crime tribunal, foreign or local.

He had also pledged to exonerate and free from prosecution the dozens of military personnel accused of abductions, extortion and killings during his brother’s decade in power.

In his brief acceptance speech at the announcement of the final election results on Sunday, Rajapaksa pledged to work for all Sri Lankans.

“I am the president of not only those who voted for me but also those who voted against me... irrespective of which race or religion they belong to,” Rajapaksa said.

“I am deeply committed to serve all the people of Sri Lanka.”

The island’s minority Tamils have been campaigning for greater autonomy in areas where they are concentrated.

Tamil youth took up arms in 1972 demanding a separate state and their violent guerilla campaign at its height saw them control a third of the country.

After being in opposition for nearly five years, the Rajapaksa family’s comeback came after the Sinhalese-Buddhist community and the powerful Buddhist clergy rallied behind them.

Rajapaksa formally announced his intention to run for the presidency just days after Islamist attacks on April 21 that killed 269 people, promising to protect the nation.

The Easter Sunday suicide bombings on three upscale hotels and three churches was carried out by a homegrown outfit from among Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.

It shocked the nation, and the world, just as Sri Lankan tourism was booming and as the nation prepared to celebrate a decade since the end of the Tamil separatist war.

Rajapakasa insisted that extremists would not have carried out any attacks if he had been in power. He blamed the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for weakening the intelligence apparatus he had built.