African malaria experts take charge in Africa’s war against malaria
By Dr. Charles Mbogo
Dr Charles Mbogo, PAMCA President
On the April 25 observance of World Malaria Day, it’s useful to assess our progress and determine the best way forward. Malaria is a deadly disease transmitted to people through infected mosquitoes. It attacked over 290 million people and resulted in more than 660,000 deaths in 2010. There are about 100 malaria-endemic countries. Africa is the most affected continent with 90 percent of all malaria deaths, mostly among children younger than five years old. In Africa, a child dies every 60 seconds from malaria.
Despite these daunting statistics, malaria is preventable and curable. In the mid-twentieth century we came close to controlling it with the widespread use of insecticides and other control methods. But, a lack of sustained financing thwarted the international initiative. Since 2000, stepped up investments in malaria control and treatment have contributed to significant progress. Malaria mortality rates have decreased by more than one-third in Africa and by 26 percent globally.
For the first time in history, defeating the disease is within reach. But, we must make sure that we don’t reverse progress.
Recently, an Africa-based organisation was launched to ensure that we remain vigilant in the war against malaria in our own backyard. The Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) was formed to promote control of and research on mosquitoes and to disseminate valuable information on the study of mosquitoes across Africa and worldwide. PAMCA is the first organization comprised of Africa-based entomologists and mosquito control specialists and it provides a unified voice for these professionals. As an entomologist who has been devoted to the fight against malaria for many years, I’m proud to have been enlisted to serve as PAMCA’s first president.
The launch of PAMCA is timely, as the need for information sharing is great. For example, there is an emerging problem in malaria control involving increased resistance by mosquitoes to insecticides used in bed nets and sprays. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 125 mosquito species with documented resistance to one or more insecticides, and insecticide resistance has been identified in malaria vectors in 64 countries with ongoing transmission. In areas of high resistance, we must be diligent in deploying the most appropriate preventative tools for each situation. This includes rational selection of bed nets and sprays that have the highest efficacy against resistant mosquitoes. Better data sharing will drive informed decisions about which tools to deploy where, and when.
PAMCA is also an industry advocate and watchdog. We recently stepped in after an unendorsed report about a “new” mosquito species in Kenya was released to international media outside of Africa. Such reports must be validated and controlled to make sure that misinformation doesn’t influence malaria control decision makers. PAMCA quickly spoke up to challenge the report in the media and shared accurate information across Africa and beyond.
PAMCA will also work to build awareness for the contributions of African scientists devoted to malaria prevention and control. These valuable experts are often overlooked as the spotlight on advances in malaria science tends to favor researchers at well-known organizations in developed countries. This discourages scientists from pursuing research programs in Africa, which is not acceptable. We must continue to build a robust capacity of entomologists who are dedicated to tackling malaria on the home front. After all, who knows Africa better than Africans?
So much progress has been made in the war against malaria. But so much more needs to be done. We need every resource dedicated to this effort in Africa and across the globe. We can’t slow down and we must work smarter than ever before in terms of the time and money we invest in malaria prevention and control. We know all too well from our recent past and by the tally of millions of lives lost, that a decrease in momentum can have a devastating impact. A child somewhere in the world dying from malaria every 60 seconds just cannot be tolerated.
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Dr. Charles Mbogo is President of the Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA).