Category Archives: Chronic/NCDs

Are non-communicable diseases actually communicable?

Much of the discussion around global health and post-Millennium Development Goals focuses on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, cancers and the the like.  While it is important to recognize that low income nations are not plagued with both communicable and non-communicable diseases, we do not want the greater focus on NCDs in richer countries to overshadow the problems of malaria, pneumonia, TB, diarrhea and other child killers in poorer countries.

dscn7742-chw-flipchart.jpgA major reason for us not to lose focus on communicable diseases was recently reported from the Wellcome Trust on research they have supported in Malawi. The researchers found that the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is able to “cause inflammation in blood vessel walls, making them more sticky so that the infected red blood cells can cling to the sides. Being able to stick to the blood vessels in vital organs allows the parasite to hide away from the immune system, a process called sequestration. When it occurs in the brain it causes a more severe form of the disease called cerebral malaria, associated with seizures, coma and sometimes death.”

The researchers also surmised that if this complication does not kill people in childhood, the damage to blood vessel walls can have more long lasting effects. In particular they noted that, “Chronic changes to the blood vessels like these could an important contributing factor to cardiovascular disease later in life.”

The link between malaria and Endemic Burkitt lymphoma (eBL) continues to be explored. Recently adding to this long history of eBL research, Peter Aka and colleagues reported that. “Anti–HRP-II (Plasmodium falciparum histidine-rich protein-II) antibodies suggest that recent malaria infection triggers the onset of eBL.”

In a review of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) Demicheva and Crispi observed that, “Several clinical and experimental studies showed that IUGR fetuses present signs of cardiac dysfunction in utero that persist postnatally and may condition higher cardiovascular risk later in life.” In endemic regions, malaria in pregnancy is a major cause of IUGR and thus low birth weight.

Preventing malaria therefore saves lives now and in the future. Ignoring malaria now adds greater burdens to the health system and national productivity tomorrow. We need to maintain our investments in malaria both globally and in and by endemic countries themselves.