If you think you’re too small to accomplish something big, picture yourself locked in a room with a mosquito. –African proverb
Yesterday, World Malaria Day was observed by organizations and communities all over the world with all the resolve appropriate for one of the world’s deadliest diseases. According to the WHO, approximately half of the world is at risk for the disease. Though most of the cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria was present in 108 countries and territories in 2008, causing approximately 247 million cases and nearly one million deaths.1 Most deaths are in children under 5. The international day of observation was recognized by high-profile celebrities, NGOs, and small communities in a variety of ways. But the newest – and potentially the most effective – way to raise both money and awareness is by going viral with the protozoan parasite.
Malaria first went viral when Ashton Kutcher celebrated his beating CNN to one million followers on Twitter by donating $100,000 to Malaria No More to purchase 10,000 mosquito nets.2 Through his donation, 89,724 insecticide-treated bed nets were sent to villages in Senegal. By using the RT2Give Twitpay service, any Twitter user can retweet a message from their malaria-related non-profit of choice and donate $10 to Malaria No More. Internet Explorer and Firefox users can also download and use the Nothing But Nets browser toolbar, which raises money every time it’s used to search and shop online.
The battle against malaria continues to rage on many fronts, and much progress has been made. A variety of rapid diagnostic tests are available to facilitate accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment, requiring only a drop of blood and giving results in 15 minutes. Artemisinin-based combination therapy acts quickly with few side effects and has proven extremely effective at treating malaria cases.3 Malaria vaccine candidates, though they only confer partial protection, have shown great promise and are currently in Phase III testing.4 However, there is still much work to be done: insecticide-treated bed nets must be made more widely available, reliable testing and treatment need to be implemented on a much wider scale, and care and treatment must be made more affordable and accessible.
When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the first World Malaria Day in 2008, he made the bold proposal of ending malaria deaths by the end of 2010 by ensuring universal coverage in Africa. In an op-ed piece in the Guardian, he cautioned that while we may not be able to wipe out malaria right away, we can combat it effectively if we act together. “We have the resources and the know-how. But we have less than 1,000 days before the end of 2010. So let’s get to work.”5
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