Monday, May 02, 2005

Bugged

The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, editorialised on malaria a week an a half ago. It said that rising rates of malaria may be the fault of an international group trying to halt the spread of the disease called Roll Back Malaria. I thought this was a fascinating story (the journal obviously did too as it put out a press release on it) but as I looked into it, I couldn't find any support for the ideas in it.

The result of my investigation led me to some conclusions. For one thing it is not clear that the global burden of malaria is actually increasing. Any global rise could be down to better monitoring of cases.
In southern Africa, there is a problem. Resistant forms of the parasite have been emerging and causing havoc. The Lancet believes that more information should have been given to these countries earlier on about how the nature of the disease was changing. The trouble is, had the information been given it does not mean that the treatment or the money to pay for the treatment would have been available. It has only been very recently that problems of the supply of artemesin (a drug that treats these resistant forms of the disease) have been overcome. And bottlenecks in supply of this product (derived from natural sources) are still an issue.
I find it hard to agree with the conclusion that the group Roll Back Malaria "does more harm than good" but that is what the Lancet says in its press release so it must be true.

The editorial is found here. My piece in The Economist is here but requires a subscription.