Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Disease eradication

World Malaria Day was a couple of weeks go, and I missed posting on it due to my recent indisposition. Yeah, yeah, I don't usually pay much attention to these artificial occasions --- National Pickle Week, Administrative Assistant's Day, yadda yadda -- but the WHO and the Global Fund used the day to push hard to get attention and maybe raise some dough. Here's the UN Special Envoy's statement on the day, which was April 25. Malaria matters because it is a leading killer of children and because endemic malaria is a major factor that holds down poor regions of the world. With lots of people debilitated, economic welfare suffers.

And malaria is eradicable. It won't be easy, but it can be done. It's technically possible because the parasite needs a human host for part of its life cycle. If infected people can be cured, and the chain of transmission stopped, malaria can be gone forever, like smallpox. which was declared eradicated in 1980. Polio should be gone from the earth by now, but it isn't, because of civil conflict and religious fanaticism. Eradicating malaria faces some of the same problems -- many of the places where the disease remains are very difficult to work in. But these are potentially incredibly powerful investments. However, the eradication of smallpox followed a previous unsuccessful campaign to eradicate malaria.

These efforts require more social science, community organizing, business management, and political negotiation than they do biological science. They have the potential to strengthen civil society in poor countries, and international cooperation, but done wrong they can damage both. (See the last link.) Will we have the wisdom as a species to pull it off? 

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