Malaria: how technologies can improve prevention campaigns

I started reading something about malaria the first time I went to Africa. It was more than 20 years ago. I only needed to know the best treatment to prevent the disease.

I surprisingly realized that there weren’t many medicines, and they couldn’t prevent the disease for sure. I wasn’t affected with malaria, but I had a lot of diseases because of the treatment.

It was in that time that I asked myself how so many people in different countries can struggle against this disease, as treatments are so expensive, and plenty of side-effects.

I began from my country, Italy. Malaria was widespread in 40’s and 50’s, in many areas in the countryside. Then, there were many environment reclamations, and this issue became less and less important.

Nowadays that many people move from one country to another, as it’s easier to travel for tourism or for job, and the costs are becoming more and more higher for many countries, there is an increasing attention on this disease.

Just a couple of highlights from the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2008, which draws upon data collected through 2006:

–       new methods estimate the number of malaria cases is 247 million for 2006.

–       small children remain by far the most likely to die of the disease  (a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds)

–       malaria is endemic in more than 90 countries

–       access in Africa to a rather new artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), which is recommended by WHO, reached only 3% of children in need

One of the more effective malaria intervention is the bed net, so far.

But there is a good news, as many researchers are trying to find new solutions, supported by technology. Thanks to the last issue of Wired-Italia I acknowledged that  the team of Environmental Surveillance Core at Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, led by Gregory Glass.

By using a special software, a GPS computer identifies the area more infected by plasmodium mosquitoes. Satellite  pictures and data are processed in order to give information about at-risk areas, and consequently planning effective malaria interventions, campaigns, bed nets distribution, etc.

Isn’t it great? Fortunately, this is just one of the many projects to struggle malaria. And they are increasing together with the awareness of importance of this disease.


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