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Demand from affluent consumers is linked to increased malaria transmission


24 April 2020

Tomorrow is World Malaria Day. It is observed on 25 April every year to raise awareness of the global burden of malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that is estimated to kill a child every two minutes. 

Muriel Cozier

While the world is focusing on the Covid-19 pandemic, it is worth remembering that during 2018 there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria in 89 countries. According to the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, which was launched by WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank in 1998, the number of deaths in that year stands at 405,000 – a similar number to the previous year. Some 94% of deaths due to malaria occurred across Africa. The WHO says that, based on current trends, a target to end malaria worldwide by 2030 will not be met. 

But there are encouraging signs for new interventions; ‘Future progress in the fight against malaria will likely be shaped by technological advances and innovations in new tools, such as new diagnostics and more effective anitmalarial medicines,’ the WHO has said.

A vaccination programme was introduced into Ghana, Kenya and Malawi during 2019. The RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine, said to be the word’s fist malaria vaccine, has been used in these three countries through a WHO-coordinated pilot programme. The vaccine has been shown, through rigorous clinical trials, to reduce the cases of severe malaria by 36% in children aged 5 – 17 months. The results of the programme will inform future policy decision on wider deployment of the vaccine. The vaccine programme was launched in partnership with Ministries of Health from the three African countries, PATH (a global health organisation) and GSK, the manufacturer of the vaccine.

Meanwhile researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia and the University of São Paulo, Brazil estimate that 20% of the malaria risk in deforestation hotspots is driven by the international trade in products including coffee, timber, soybean, cocoa, wood products, palm oil, tobacco, beef and cotton. 

The study, which is published in Nature Communication, is said to be the first to highlight a link between global demand for goods that increase deforestation and a rise in malaria risk in humans. 

Professor Manfred Lenzen, from the Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis in the School of Physics at University of Sydney said, ‘What does this mean for affluent consumers? We need to be more mindful of our consumption and procurement and avoid buying from sources implicated with deforestation and support sustainable land ownership in developing countries.’

The researchers added; ‘This work goes beyond simple incidence mapping and correlations, in that it unveils a global supply-chain network that links malaria occurring in specific locations because of deforestation with globally dispersed consumption.’

Nature Communications: DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-14954-1

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