Migration and Malaria

cross-border-initiatives-sm.jpgMalaria – a disease without borders. That was the theme of World Malaria Day in 2008.  What does this mean in practical terms?  There are definitely countries that share mosquito breeding sites on their borders, but it is the human movement across borders that has caused concern recently in Malaysia.

The New Straits Times reports from KUALA LUMPUR that, “Migrant workers, many of whom are here illegally, are the source of the spread of malaria in six states.” The Health minister is quoted as complaining that, “‘In some of these states, the increase in cases is due to migrant workers, many of whom are illegal, coming from countries where malaria is still endemic …’ In addition, he said, these workers were mobile and posed a challenge to the ministry’s efforts to ensure they completed their treatment.”

A different aspect of migration also threatens our ability to control malaria – brain drain. AllAfrica.com shares a story from Burkina Faso: “UNESCO is expanding a scheme that aims to slow the brain drain of African and Arab researchers by giving them access to global scientific networks and computing power.” Additionally, “UNESCO and Hewlett-Packard say they plan to include 100 more universities in the scheme by the end of 2011, with help from additional partners.”

Although the article does not address malaria directly, similar efforts by the international research community to strengthen endemic country research capacity hope to enable African researchers to contribute directly on the ground to solving their countries’ malaria problems. For example, see the work of the Malaria in Pregnancy Consortium.

The timing of these migration concerns – whether illegal migrants entering a country or high level brainpower departing – coincide with the observance this month of the tenth International Migrants Day. This observance recognizes the “human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants.”

Migration is a basic reality of human existence. We should not blame migrants for the challenges posed by malaria but acknowledge, if we are to eliminate malaria world-wide, that migrants need access to basic malaria control services, whether they come to Malaysia, Guyana or Kazakhstan.

We should also realize that the issue of migration and malaria shows how intertwined the control of the disease is with national development. By improving employment opportunities, health systems and research capacity in malaria endemic countries, we might stem the tide of some migration and enable all levels of the national workforce to contribute in their own ways to controlling malaria at home.

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