Since I enjoyed the hospitality of an Australian doctor doing malaria research in The Gambia on my way to Timbuktoo, I have watched the pace of malaria research with a slightly above average level of interest. There are several diseases caused by different mosquitoes. Acute and severe malarias can lead to comas and deaths within hours or days. Then there is chronic malaria. Incubation periods can be up to 30 years, and recurrence is common. It saps the energy of the young people and weakens economies by draining the workforce and requiring expenditure on health care. Most of the deaths occur in children in sub-Saharan Africa (that is to say, all of the countries except the ones at the top of the continent). The childhood survivors may suffer cognitive impairment.
According to Wikipedia, symptoms short of coma and death include light-headedness, shortness of breath, tachycardia, as well as other general symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, flu-like illness.
I was unhappy to learn that a major cause of preventable malaria deaths in south-east Asia is counterfeit anti-malarials which are difficult to detect except by laboratory analysis. But accelerated change for the better seems to be afoot. US$3 billion has been pledged towards eradication by the international community, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given US$168 million for research on a vaccine, and Bill Gates successfully attracted a lot of attention by letting loose a swarm of mosquitoes in a packed auditorium to which he was speaking. But what prompted this post is some excellent news hiding away amongst tales of tragedy from a very Australian scourge. Glaxo Smith Kline, the world’s second biggest drug company, has decided to donate patents in technologies which are needed for malaria to a pool which may be accessed by scientists working on a cure. And they are cutting the prices of drugs in 50 of the worst off nations, mainly in Africa, to no more than a quarter of the prices in the West. Mind you, given that the cost of a couple of dollars for an insecticide treated mosquito net is too great for many rural African potential sufferers, I am not sure how much of a difference that is going to make.
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