Written by Brian Tarimo, Ifakara Health Institute.
As another World Malaria Day starts, this year’s theme could not have been more meaningful to me. “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” calls on all of us to fully participate in whatever capacity we can in the fight against malaria.
When I was 9 years old my mother suffered from cerebral malaria. Many years later, my wife (then fiancé) was hospitalized, and I too have had it several times in my life. We all recovered thanks to the countless efforts by the medical teams who attended to us. But a question that still lingers in my mind is how many 9-year-old children, and countless other people, have lost a loved one; a parent, a partner, a sibling, a colleague or a friend to this disease?
I have dedicated my life’s work in fighting malaria and other diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes, commonly known as vector-borne diseases. Currently, I work at the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) in Tanzania as a research scientist. When people ask themselves what they can do to help stop malaria, many don’t realise that in fact in Africa we all have a role to play. For example, we are looking at the way of improving our homes and how we live can have an impact. Research shows that the use of mosquito-proofed housing, when used in addition to existing malaria control tools such as ITNs and IRS, can substantially contribute to malaria control and elimination. Simple housing improvements such as the use of screens on windows, closed eave spaces, use of non-thatched roofs, and emptying of water bodies nearby houses have been proven as successful measures in reducing house entry by malaria mosquitoes and thus exposure to biting.
However, these controls alone are not enough. New and innovative malaria control tools need to be developed if the WHO Global Technical Strategy 2030 strategy is to be realized. The GTS aims to see a reduction by 90% in global malaria cases and deaths, and elimination of the disease in at least 35 countries by the year 2030. Current tools, ITNs and IRS, have contributed significantly to the reduction of malaria cases and deaths observed over the last decade or so. However, these tools have reached their maximum capacity, as evident by the stagnation in decline in the number of cases and deaths over the last 2 years. The situation is further complicated by the existing resistance in insecticides and antimalarial drugs observed in sub-Sahara Africa and other parts of the world.
There is an urgent need to deploy new tools to complement the existing ones. These tools that have the potential of substantially contributing to the fight against malaria include housing improvement, larval source management, and genetic approaches such as gene drive mosquitoes, to mention a few.
Growing up in a malaria-endemic country I have seen the ravages of the disease first hand. And while the journey sometimes feels impossible, there is something we can all do in the path to elimination. There are thousands of researchers like me across Africa for whom every day is “Malaria Day”. We’ve dedicated our professional lives to fighting this disease through research, science and innovation because we know that to end malaria in our lifetime, we will need more than what we have today.
SPEAK UP TO END MALARIA
One voice is powerful, but all our voices together? Then they'll have to listen. Our colleagues at Malaria No More UK have launched the world’s first voice petition to call on world leaders to help end malaria, specifically to meet the Global Fund’s $14B replenishment target this year. Join us in signing this petition and declaring: Malaria Must Die