Panel discusses the fight against malaria


An Anopheles funestus mosquito.


James Gathany and Frank Collins, University of Notre Dame/ CDC

The Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health hosted a panel discussion about the fight against malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses on Wednesday. 

Titled “Thwarting killer mosquitoes: The state-of the-art fight against malaria and west Nile virus,” the panel focused on why malaria is so hard to fight, challenges posed by resistance to anti-malarial drugs, the latest tools in mosquito control, and why it is important to sustain efforts to fight the disease even after malaria cases decrease.

The panel also discussed controversies about genetically modified mosquitoes, pesticides, and counterfeit anti-malarial drugs.

Panelists included Dyann Wirth, chair of the department of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health; Regina Rabinovitch, ExxonMobil malaria scholar in residence at the Harvard School of Public Health; and Alan Court, senior advisor to the United Nations’ secretary general’s special envoy for malaria.

3.3 billion people live in areas that are at risk of malaria, according to the CDC, and the World Health Organization estimates that in 2010 malaria caused 660,000 deaths. Malaria is also one of the five leading causes of death for children under five years old, according to a 2012 UNICEF report. 91 percent of deaths caused by malaria in 2010 were in Africa.

Panelist Regina Rabinovitch said she was optimistic about the fight against malaria. 

"I definitely see the glass as half full," she said. "You actually have strategies that could be employed today in some areas, and those that may require new tools to be able to eliminate and ultimately eradicate the parasite."

But, she cautioned, achieving this goal will not be achieved in the short term. "I want to emphasize the longer term, because we need to be humble. This is not a five-year initiative," she said.

Alan Court said that there are also short term challenges to fighting malaria.

"The short term, is how do we protect people who are already protected, so that we don't see the resurgence, how do we get the funding up to the levels that's needed," he said. "And how can we encourage authorities everywhere ... that the more we deal with the disease now, the more the economy will benefit, both at the personal, community, and national levels. The more those countries will be able to cope with their own situations, and the better overall situation there will be." 

The event was presented in collaboration with GlobalPost and moderated by Sam Loewenberg, GlobalPost Special Reports’ lead reporter on child health.

The event precedes a project that GlobalPost will launch later this year examining child health around the world.