Fighting malaria

02.11.2018 - Article

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there were some 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, with 445,000 people dying from the disease. Nearly half of the global population is exposed to a risk of contracting malaria, writes the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation.

A mother cares for her baby suffering form malaria in the Gerlib clinic, Liberia
A mother cares for her baby suffering form malaria in the Gerlib clinic, Liberia© Ute Grabowsky/phototek.net

The disease is particularly widespread in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and in India. Malaria poses an especially dangerous health threat to pregnant women, babies and young children.

The economic damage caused by malaria is very costly. Studies show that the disease acts as a brake on economic growth, and in the long run it can result in a major decline in the gross national product of badly affected countries.

Malaria hits the poor in particular. Although we have effective tools for preventing and treating the infection, millions of people in developing countries have no access to these services because they are simply unaffordable.

Methods for combatting malaria

There is no “silver bullet” when it comes to malaria therapy and prevention. Rather, fighting malaria always demands a mix of methods tailored to each situation. Rapid diagnosis and effective medication are decisive for a successful therapy, especially where children are concerned.

Still no universally approved vaccine

Breeding of crop plants, needed for the production of drugs against malaria in a labatory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Breeding of crop plants, needed for the production of  drugs against malaria in a labatory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.© Thomas Imo/photothek.net

A licensed vaccine against malaria is not yet available. Work on developing a vaccine against the Plasmodium falciparum pathogen, which is responsible for the most dangerous type of malaria (Malaria tropica) has, however, reached a fairly advanced stage. It has already been trialled in seven African countries. The WHO announced in November 2016 that the vaccine was to be introduced via pilot projects in three countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in which Germany is an active partner, has pledged to cofinance this initial roll-out.

Problems of resistance

A major challenge to the fight against malaria is presented by various kinds of resistance. In many regions of the world, the mosquitoes responsible for passing on the pathogen have become immune to the insecticides in use. Scientists have also observed behavioural changes as the insects appear increasingly to be avoiding contact with insecticides.

As for the malaria parasites themselves, here, too, resistance is increasingly encountered. Resistance renders the agent Artemisinin as well as other common antimalarial drugs ineffective against the parasites.

German activities

The fight against malaria is a key component of German development cooperation in the field of health. German activities are mainly aimed at strengthening health systems in partner countries. Consequently, measures designed to tackle individual diseases, such as malaria, are embedded within comprehensive care strategies aimed at improving the general health of a population. To this end, Germany supports projects that promote access for all groups and sections of the population to the medicines and health care they need, including the services that control malaria.

Mosquitoes transfer the parasites
Mosquitoes transfer the parasites© Colourbox

The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) has, since 2016, also been supporting the fight against malaria through its initiative on “Hospital partnerships – Partners Strengthen Health”.

At the multilateral level, Germany is, above all, a major contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund). The BMZ has also been successfully working for many years with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the field of malaria control.

The German Development Bank KfW is funding the European Vaccine Initiative (EVI), which is endeavouring to develop a vaccine that will prevent severe cases of malaria during pregnancy. Germany is also active player in the second partnership programme between Europe and developing countries in the field of clinical studies (European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, EDCTP2), which promotes the development of drugs and vaccines against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

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