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Knowledge is power in the fight against malaria

With half the world’s population at risk of malaria, the disease is one of epic scale. Targeting malaria ‘hot spots’ could help the world get a grip on this global killer.  

“There is no reason for anyone with malaria to die,” says George Jagoe, in charge of access initiatives at Medicines for Malaria Venture. “A simple 45 cent, three-day course of treatment can save a child’s life.” However, malaria can kill within 24 hours of the onset of acute symptoms, and with most cases occurring in rural Africa, getting medication to those who need it is a challenge.

Targeting hot spots

“Advancements in how we use disease data can make us smarter in responding to malaria,” says Jagoe. He cites new approaches in Ethiopia where health professionals are fine-mapping cases of malaria to better track both seasonal trends and localized outbreaks. “By capturing case level data, analysing the larger disease picture in a community over time, and responding accordingly, we can ‘up’ the effectiveness of our strategies to control and eventually eliminate malaria.”

In the past, when presumptive treatment was often the norm, the inability to pinpoint true clusters of malaria led to ineffective approaches and inappropriate, overuse of medicines. This in turn helped contribute to the rise of resistance to medications.

A unified approach

Smarter malaria control response is just one part of the equation, though. Ensuring that high quality, effective treatment is available immediately for all malaria patients is also critical. Jagoe notes that, “since 2011, the global donor community has shown a willingness to consider new approaches to expand access, including subsidizing the price of ACTs [Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy malaria treatment] in the private sector through programmes like the Affordable Medicine Facility for Malaria”. These approaches, coupled with education for health workers and better local diagnosis, can ensure that drugs don’t just get to the patients, but that they are used correctly and, ultimately, save lives.

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