Ready to beat malaria

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Medicine Cabinet

AFTER AN unprecedented period of success in malaria control, progress has stalled in the global response to one of humanity’s oldest diseases. This was the key finding of the 2017 “World Malaria Report” of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO is calling for urgent action to safeguard the gains in the fight against malaria in line with the observance of World Malaria Day 2018 on April 25 with theme “Ready to Beat Malaria.”

Malaria is a disease caused by parasites that are usually transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Although preventable and curable, malaria can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. About 90% of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa. Initial symptoms, which may be mild and difficult to diagnose as malaria, include fever, headache, and chills. Children with severe malaria frequently develop severe anemia, respiratory distress (fluid build-up in the lungs), or cerebral malaria (a severe condition caused by malarial parasites in the brain’s blood vessels). In adults, malarial parasites often invade vital organs such as the brain and liver.

“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,” stated the 2017 “World Malaria Report.” According to the report, countries with ongoing transmission are increasingly falling into one of two categories: those moving towards elimination and those with a high burden of the disease that have reported significant increases in malaria cases.

Malaria is the 9th leading cause of sickness in the Philippines. According to the available data from the Department of Health (DoH), malaria is endemic (prevalent) in 58 provinces, with 14 million Filipinos at risk. The DoH is working with other government institutions such as the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) and University of the Philippines-College of Public Health, international NGOs such as the WHO, and local government units (LGUs) in implementing the country’s Malaria Control Program. The program has three key interventions: early diagnosis and prompt treatment, vector control, and LGU capacity building.

Vector control is the main way to prevent and reduce malaria transmission. This includes 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, etc.

In a report by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) in 2017, at least 13 research-based pharmaceutical companies are working on 53 potential medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and vector control projects that are in discovery to advanced stages of clinical trials.

After observing World Malaria Day last week, let us all do our part in beating this ancient disease that continues to cause sickness, suffering and death across the globe. We fully support the WHO’s appeal for greater investment and expanded coverage of proven tools that prevent, diagnose and treat malaria.

Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Cabinet is a weekly PHAP column that aims to promote awareness on public health and health care-related issues. PHAP and its member companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and health care industry.