Educating the Media on Malaria Control

The mass media – electronic, print and now social – play an important role in the fight against malaria.  The media reach diverse audiences from villagers to policy makers.  Because of their potential influence, the media must have the story right when it comes to malaria.

DSCN2402A news story published online this morning from a highly malaria-endemic country shows how some subtle but important mistakes can give wrong impressions and lead to wrong actions. The fact that the information is attributed to “medical science experts” does not mean that the reporters quoted them in the correct context.

The first example from the story is, “Spending on malaria and dengue fever treatment programmes should be controlled, with more efforts directed to preventive measures …”  As a disease caused by a virus, dengue does not have a definitive treatment, if by treatment we mean a cure.

Life saving palliative care is important in dengue, but dengue in Africa usually goes undiagnosed and is unfortunately often treated by wasting malaria drugs. The issue is not reducing treatment funds, but using rapid diagnostic tests so that we will not waste our expensive malaria medicines on non-malarial fevers.

The article next talks about how scientists in the country, “are advising the government to authorise controlled use of the banned pesticide DDT to strengthen mosquito eradication and bite control programmes in the country.”  DDT has been used for indoor residual spraying against the malaria carrying anopheles mosquitoes.  This fits into the anopheles behavior of resting on walls after biting.

By contrast dengue is carried by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.  They are the ones that breed in pots, tins, etc. around the house, and DDT is not a major part of the efforts to control them. Household members are responsible for removing or not even allowing such small collections of water to occur in their houses, on their property and among their neighbors.

A final odd claim is that, “Donor funded health programmes are disadvantaged because the in-country implementers ‘accept each and every thing directed to them by the donors without challenging their ideas.’” For the biggest malaria funding programs this is not true.  The Global Fund for years has required that countries submit their own proposals that were developed and passed through their own national country coordinating mechanisms.

Now Global Fund is requiring countries to submit their own national malaria strategies as a basis for funding. The Global Fund is a financial organization, not a technical one, and thus is not directing countries what to do other that spend their money well on scientifically sound interventions.

Other donors work together with national malaria control programs and their partners to develop country specific and relevant operational plans. Donors do encourage countries to implement scientifically proven guidance that is developed by international technical committees whose members include scientists from endemic countries.

The points above could create unfortunate misunderstandings by the public (about insecticides), professionals (about treatment) and policy makers (about donor support). The media should foster appropriate and timely action against malaria, not confuse the public.

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