Eradication or Control – has the confusion started?

When Bill and Melinda Gates hosted a gathering of key malaria stakeholders last year, Melinda told the audience that, “Advances in science and medicine, promising research, and the rising concern of people around the world represent an historic opportunity not just to treat malaria or to control it—but to chart a long-term course to eradicate it.” Thus the E Word had been uttered and could not be taken back. Even though it was clear from the speech that eradication would be a long term goal, partners worried that funders and endemic countries may start to believe that eradication could be just around the corner. Disappointment may lead to loss of political will.

Now we see the following headline in The Daily Observer of Banjul: “Gambia: Operation Eradicate Malaria Launched.” The story opens with the statement: “Operation Eradicate Malaria in The Gambia was yesterday launched by Dr Aja Isatou Njie-Saidy, vice-president and secretary of state for Women’s Affairs on behalf of President Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, at the July 22nd Square, Banjul.” According to the article, one of the factors that has encouraged this optimism is the fact that, “The Gambia tops the whole of Africa in attaining the Abuja Target of Insecticides Treated Bed Net Use by children and pregnant women by 54 per of the 60 per cent target.”

daily-observer-erad-malaria-gambia2.jpgThe article (see left) reports an awareness of the need to collaborate with neighboring countries to achieve the goal. Unfortunately The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal who has had mixed success in its own malaria control efforts, as evidenced in the low performance rating on its first Global Fund Malaria Grant. Progress has picked up on the Round 4 Grant to Senegal, but there is still a long way to go. As we mentioned yesterday, regional cooperation is a key to solving the malaria problem.

It seems that even in The Gambia there is some difference in conception about the current malaria effort. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare was also quoted as saying that, “the aim of malaria prevention and control strategy is to control malaria so that it cease to be a major public health problem in The Gambia and to provide a framework for the reduction of the malaria burden by 80 per cent by 2015.” This is certainly a more realistic approach for the present situation, but lacks the sensationalism of promoting eradication.

Malaria program advocates certainly have a lot of education to do with policy makers and those who hear their speeches to ensure realistic expectations without reducing commitment to the fight against malaria. Advocates should also continue to press for the development of new malaria tools so that eventually eradication might become a possibility.

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