The world was well on its way to controlling malaria — a very old disease transmitted through mosquito bite, much like dengue — until recently, it seems. This was according to a commentary authored by Teodoro Padilla, executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), as he quoted the key findings of the 2017 World Malaria Report of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The current pace is insufficient to achieve the 2020 milestones of the WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 — specifically, targets calling for a 40% reduction in malaria case incidence and death rates,” Padilla quoted the 2017 World Malaria Report. To date, he noted, countries are either moving towards elimination, or are reporting significant increases in cases.
This is a concern, in my opinion, primarily because malaria, like dengue, can result in death unless detected and treated promptly. To date, malaria is said to be the 9th leading cause of sickness in the Philippines. And based on how we have gone about dealing with dengue so far, including a controversial and scandalous vaccination program, perhaps we need to rethink how we deal with malaria as well.
The positive side for us is that about 90% of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa, noted Padilla. But, he also cited data from the Department of Health (DoH) that in the Philippines, malaria is endemic or prevalent now in 58 provinces, with 14 million Filipinos at risk. Current interventions include early diagnosis and prompt treatment; vector control; and, LGU capacity building.
In this regard, Padilla noted that “vector control is the main way to prevent and reduce malaria transmission.” And, by this, he refers to the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying with insecticides, and elimination of stagnant water in flower pots, old tires, empty bottles, and plastic containers, and other places.
He also cited a report by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) that as of 2017, at least 13 research-based pharmaceutical companies were working on 53 potential medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and vector control projects that were in discovery to advanced stages of clinical trials.
Another recent news item came to mind in this regard, and that was the US government’s approval — through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of an anti-mosquito paint that was made in Japan. The US EPA is the regulator commissioned by the US Federal Government to ensure the protection and preservation of human and environmental health.
I believe this product is a big step in the right direction, considering Padilla’s emphasis on “vector control” as a way to beat malaria and other diseases like dengue. Prevention, obviously, is always better than cure. Why wait to get sick before dealing with the problem when there are available ways to prevent or avoid getting sick?
Painting walls with anti-mosquito paint, in my opinion, is a far more efficient and effective way of dealing with mosquito-transmitted diseases than with spraying insecticides or the use of insecticide-treated nets or screens. It is for the simple reason that painting, as opposed to other methods, requires human intervention only at the start.
Spraying, on the other hand, must be done periodically but consistently. It requires the use of consumables every time, and manual labor to do the actual spraying. In this line, people tend to get complacent and forget the chore, or at least do it inconsistently. Moreover, in terms of government intervention, the purchase and use of consumables can lead to corruption.
Mosquito nets may be more effective than spraying, in this sense. However, use of nets can be cumbersome — if the type to put up and put down every time you sleep. As window screens, treated nets are effective mainly in keeping mosquitos out. But what about those already in? Or those that pass not through open windows but other openings like doors and holes?
Painting walls with anti-mosquito paint is one-time work, and repainting may be required only perhaps after five or 10 years. Walls, including ceilings, also are the biggest surfaces in any house or school building. And, use of paint per can be computed on per square meter basis, and therefore accountability and controls versus corruption can be implemented. In contrast, can one effectively measure and account the use of insecticide sprays?
Information available indicates that while the US-approved anti-mosquito paint was developed by a Japanese company, the “technology” was first created in South Africa to prevent the spread of malaria. And, other than the US market, the product has also been reportedly approved and commercially launched in Malaysia and Singapore.
I believe that encouraging the use of anti-mosquito paint in all government buildings and public schools and hospitals and other public facilities will be a more effective and efficient means of combating malaria and dengue and other insect-transmitted diseases. For sure, it will be more effective than an allegedly questionable vaccination program for public school kids. Even adults can get malaria and dengue, so why should we intervene only at the child level?
Most, if not all, public facilities require or need some form of painting, anyway. Can we not encourage Public Works and local governments to use anti-mosquito paint at least in public schools and public hospitals and health facilities? Even churches, and other facilities where large groups of people congregate, should consider the use of anti-mosquito paint.
Such a paint technology is now available, not like in the past when we had to settle for mosquito nets and sprays and lotions. The technology and their products have apparently been tested in Africa, in the United States, in Malaysia, and in Singapore. We should make the effort to at least look at the technology and check the products that can be made available to us, locally.
Beyond public buildings and facilities, even private developers should start looking into the use of anti-mosquito paint in new housing units, common areas of condominiums, and maybe in shopping malls. I believe such an intervention will be a relatively small price to pay in fighting malaria, dengue, and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Marvin A. Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.