Sunday, 24 September 2017

What if ... malaria reaches America?

I wonder how many of you have caught the snippet of health news from Asia … the emergence of a lethal strain of malaria that is resistant to current treatments. 

I knew it was there in Cambodia, in a remote corner of the country on the border with Vietnam. Apparently it has now spread to Thailand and Vietnam - and so, potentially, into the ‘mainstream’ malarial areas. There has been a drive to eradicate malaria from the Mekong delta (using preventive measures such as bednets and sprays, plus experimenting with vaccines), but if this strain reaches the Mekong all those efforts will be undone.

The biggest worry is that it will spread to Africa - virulent strains already kill thousands every year, where treatment depends on proximity to a health centre and preventive measures are hit and miss.

I know that in Malawi everyone is given bednets in an effort to control the disease, but many find them unbearably hot to sleep under, and fishermen find the small mesh invaluable for trapping small fish. I visited a school and saw bednets full of holes. When I mentioned malaria people simply shrugged: it was just one more hazard of living in Africa.

But a lethal strain is more than one more hazard. It can easily spread far more widely than ebola or the Zika virus and kill more than thousands.

So, will there be panic in the western press? Not at the moment. After all, it is contained in areas that tourists and western businesspeople rarely visit. And our climate ensures that anyone returning from a malarial area cannot bring the virus home with them … so we've got nothing to worry about, have we?

But just suppose it reached, say, the industrialised parts of India which are building trade links with the west? What would we do then? How many businesspeople would happily wander around in an area knowing the local mosquitoes carried a strain of malaria that might kill them? What will happen to post- Brexit trade then? 

What if one stray mosquito found its way to the swamps of Florida? 

Oh the drug companies would swing into action then. Millions of dollars would be ploughed into research. More millions would be invested in education and preventive measures across the world.

Maybe malaria has to reach America before those deaths in Africa and Asia are taken seriously.


  1. Hi Jo, as this is the same post as last week's I was wondering if it's deliberate? Have you perhaps copied the wrong text in here?

  2. The old story, that nothing matters till it affects the affluent west.... but Bill Gates foundation is putting loads of money into malaria research so the outlook is brighter for this than many other diseases.

  3. Ah Jo, I could almost imagine it would be deliberate...just so that the drug companies could make more money (yes, I am such a cynic), but I'm glad to hear Bill Gates is working on it! Malaria was already lethal for many in South Africa when I lived there.

  4. I like your line of thought. You're quite right. Maybe only by being subjected to this terrible disease, the western world will wake up to the reality of it.

    Greetings from London.

  5. If it comes to the U.S. it will probably hit Minnesota first. That place has more mosquitoes during the summer months than anyplace I've ever seen.