- Flickr, ACJ1
The world has made great strides against malaria, bringing down the estimated global death toll from more than a million — mostly children — to about 650,000 per year today.
That’s been done through a concerted and diversified strategy supported by the international community, through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, Roll Back Malaria, the President’s Malaria Initiative … the list goes on, and on. Countless organizations, public as well as private, have helped distribute hundreds of millions of insecticide-treated bednets, anti-malaria medications, conducted spraying campaigns and worked on a number of fronts to achieve these major gains.
But the situation remains precarious, says one of the world’s leading malaria experts, and malaria today is perhaps best thought of as a coiled spring held down under pressure.
- WHO’s malaria chief Dr. Robert Newman describes the massive, mostly hidden, burden of disease
“In one year, if we don’t keep up, we could easily undo this past decade of progress,” said Robert Newman, director of the global malaria program at the World Health Organization. Newman was in Seattle recently and gave a talk at the University of Washington describing the current state of affairs in the battle against malaria. “I’m concerned that we may not be keeping up.” Continue reading
Earlier this week, I reported on the culmination of a decades’-long struggle to produce a synthetic version of one the world’s favored drugs for treating malaria, artemisinin.
Global supply of artemisinin, which until now has been produced from harvest of the plant sweet wormwood, has been erratic in both quantity and supply.
Hundreds of millions of people fall ill with malaria every year with an estimated 650,000 deaths — mostly in children. The idea here was to expand access to these life-saving drugs. But no good deed goes unpunished…. Continue reading
African child with cerebral malaria
Malaria remains one of the world’s biggest killers and also a massive economic drag on poor countries, poor families.
One of our best weapons against this scourge is a drug known as artemisinin, which is harvested from the plant sweet wormwood and, as a crop, is about as predictable as corn or hog futures.
A major new initiative to be launched tomorrow in Italy by Seattle-based PATH in collaboration with the French drug maker Sanofi aims to introduce more predictability – and more of the drug.
“Our goal is to stabilize both the price and supply,” said Ponni Subbiah, head of global drug development for PATH’s subsidiary OneWorld Health – a non-profit drug company based in San Francisco that PATH acquired in 2011 to expand its global health expertise in this area usually left up to commercial drug makers.
On Thursday, at Sanofi’s manufacturing facility in Garessio, Italy, Subbiah and others will officially launch industrial scale production of semi-synthetic artemisinin aimed at producing 35 metric tons of it – approximately 70 million antimalarial treatments. Continue reading
- Flickr, Phil Romans
Bono loves data and said so in his February TED talk, which was recently released in video. He says the promise of ending extreme poverty turns him on.
“If the trajectory continues we get to the ‘zero zone.’ For number crunchers like us, that is the erogenous zone,” says Bono. “And it’s fair to say, by now, that I am sexually aroused by the collating of data.”
Extreme poverty has been halved from 43% of the world in 1990 to 21% by 2000. The current trends show that extreme poverty could end by 2030, say the World Bank, ONE and CGD.
However, the most recent data (aka UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2013) suggests that ending extreme poverty will get harder if we don’t take more action:
“Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action,” says the report. Continue reading
When folks talk about Nathan Myhrvold, they seldom use muted terms.
Nathan Myhrvold, speaking at Social Innovations Fast Pitch 2012
The former chief technologist for Microsoft is a close associate of Bill Gates and now CEO of a business, Intellectual Ventures, which some say holds more patents (about 40,000) than any other company in the United States.
I wanted to talk to Myhrvold about his recent ventures into philanthropy, into humanitarianism, which his firm has dubbed its “Global Good” project.
But first, I should disclose that I once worked for Nathan as one of a number of assisting writers on his mega-cookbook Modernist Cuisine. I helped write the meat chapter. (We sometimes argued over the words. He was difficult, I would say. He might say the same about me. But I think we’re all happy with the book.)
I should also note Myhrvold is frequently accused of being a patent troll — meaning he and his firm buy up patents and then use them to, uh, encourage (some use different words) other companies to pay them royalties or licensing fees. Here’s one such recent news post on GigaOm that talks about the Bellevue-based firm “bleeding billions from creative companies” using threats of litigation and disguised “shell companies.”
The writer goes on to say Myhrvold runs a ‘dark empire’ that stalks its victims! Is this Lord of the Rings or something? Like I said, he does tend to provoke strong feelings.
Myhrvold also provokes strong praise. He is frequently described as a master inventor in his own right, a brilliant polymath, an accomplished paleontologist (as this New Yorker profile noted) and, of course, a gourmet chef.
But the Nathan Myhrvold I’m most interested in is a fairly new one — Nathan the humanitarian technologist. Continue reading
Ugandan officials Tim Lwanga and Christine Ondoa on Seattle visit
Uganda’s been in the news a lot lately:
So, you can imagine, I had a lot of questions for Uganda’s Minister of Health Christine Ondoa, a pediatrician and pastor, and one of her traveling companions, Ugandan Parliamentarian Tim Lwanga. Ondoa has been in Seattle for the last few days to meet with a number of local organizations, talking about collaborating on projects aimed at improving health in the poor East African nation.
“The main challenges are the infectious and communicable diseases, especially malaria,” said Ondoa, who while in town met with folks at Gates Foundation, PATH, World Vision and also at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to discuss the Seattle cancer center’s ongoing project with the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala.
(I suspect the Fred Hutch folks might chafe at the claim malaria is Uganda’s biggest health problem. The cancer community is part of a broader campaign out there contending non-communicable diseases like cancer deserve equal attention in Uganda. As my friend and local journalist colleague Joanne Silberner has reported, cancer kills more people than HIV, TB and malaria combined.)
Uganda has all of the typical health problems of a poor African country, but Ondoa says malaria does deserve special attention Continue reading
Flicky, Beto Ruis Alonso
The future looks bleak for a big anti-malaria project you may not have heard of — the AMFm, Affordable Medicines Facility for malaria.
The idea of the $463-million AMFm, launched in 2004, was to subsidize the supply of anti-malaria drugs so that people in poor countries could afford the life-saving medications. People did get them, and malaria rates have declined significantly since. But as Nature reports, experts are raising concerns about this particular initiative due to lack of clear evidence that it had much impact.
So the push is on to either significantly alter the AMFm initiative or just kill it.
But let’s try to keep in mind that old axiom – “Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence.” Continue reading
Today is the anniversary of the day the Dr Ronald Ross’s discovery that malaria was spread by female mosquitoes. Various sites marked the day with blog posts and pictures, but this find from the NPR Shots Blog, who in turn was tipped by the Contagions blog, is much more fun.
Shots tells the story of the pamphlet:
Dr. Seuss was a captain in the U.S. Army. And during World War II, the author and illustrator, whose given name was Theodor Geisel, spent a few years creating training films and pamphlets for the troops.
One of Geisel’s Army cartoons was a booklet aimed at preventing malaria outbreaks among GIs by urging them to use nets and keep covered up.
In 1943, Germany blocked the Allies’ supply of the anti-malaria drug quinine. So Geisel created a booklet explaining to the troops how to avoid harmful encounters with “blood-thirsty Ann,” the character he created to represent Anopheles, the genus of the mosquitoes that transmit the disease
Notice that there were cases of malaria in the United States during World War II. A lot has changed since then in the US, but the map has not changed much for sub-Saharan Africa. The basic advice to use sleeping nets was pushed as hard 70 years ago as it is today. Continue reading