"Investments from richer (and now unaffected) countries dwindled, save for a spike of interest during the Vietnam War. The best minds in the field left for fresher challenges. Malaria, now a tropical disease of poor people, became unfashionable." -- Ed Yong
How do we make malaria fashionable? That's the question malariologists, global health professionals, fundraisers and activists have been asking themselves ever since. Clearly numbers alone do not sway public interest. If that were the case -- with 627,000 deaths per year and six diagnoses per second -- malaria would be as "fashionable" as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was during July and August of this year... and be able to sustain that level of excitement year-round. But, no.
The spike lasted about a week, and then pretty much fell flat on its face. BUT...
... Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More, reignited the spike with a quiet but fierce little post on Devex titled Find the parasite, in which he posits our need to not only treat and study the sick who have malaria, but also the seemingly healthy people who are carrying the parasite in their bloodstream. These people may appear fine but as they carry the parasite so too are they carriers -- an Anopheles mosquito without the parasite is able to dip into their bloodstream and perhaps pick up the parasite -- and just like that the seemingly healthy human has helped fill the mosquito with a deadly weapon, a parasite that it can carry and deliver to the newborn baby in a nearby village.
Coupled with this insight, Edlund states that the overall number of people who have the parasite in their bloodstream "...amounts to more than 1 billion people, one out of every seven people on the planet." Numbers may not be the only thing that matters, but a number like that is profound. One in seven of us on Team Human are carrying around a protozoan parasite of the genus Plasmodium, a microscopic animal that has found ways to adapt to nearly everything we've thrown at it.
That should be enough to fire us up. Click the graphic below to follow Edlund's series titled Solve For M. And please consider supporting on-the-ground warriors such as Alessandro Lauria's Malaria Defense Project and François Nosten's Shoklo Malaria Research Unit.
Cameron Conaway is the author of Malaria, Poems.
-- Main Photo: A woman teaches children about malaria, NovartisNG/Flick