Researchers Infect Fruit Fly With Malaria

    In a major advance in understanding and treating malaria, medical researchers managed to infect the fruit fly with the parasite that causes malaria.

    In the wild, malaria is usually transmitted by mosquitoes. Unfortunately, mosquitoes are very difficult to study in a laboratory setting. Fruit flies, however, have been extensively studied in the laboratory and are commonly used in genetic studies.

    Because of that, the entire genome for the fruit fly has been decoded and scientists will be able to better understand the various stages that the malaria parasite goes through as it infects its host.

    “Our ability to grow Plasmodium in the fruit fly is especially fortunate because scientists recently determined the complete sequences of the Drosophila genome,” Dr. Mohammed Shahabuddin of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the BBC. “So now we can scan the entire genome and identify the specific genes involved in the fruit fly’s response to Plasmodium, and then look for the corresponding genes in the mosquito.”

    Any advance in treating malaria would be very welcome as the disease is still one of the leading killers in the world, causing between 1.5 and 2.7 million deaths each year. Most of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa where malaria is still the leading cause of death.


Infected flies boost malaria hope. The BBC, June 30, 2000.

WorldWatch Kicks Off a New Millennium of Doomsaying

       In this century the material
well-being of human beings around the world increased more than in the
previous 40,000+ years. So how did the perennial doomsayers at WorldWatch
choose to greet the new century — by again predicting a coming apocalypse.

       The latest installment in the
ongoing WorldWatch soap opera has an interesting twist — with its past
major predictions of worldwide famine and other disasters consistently
failing to come to pass, WorldWatch smartly chose to make its message
of gloom as vague as possible this time around. WorldWatch’s Chris Bright
told the BBC that,

As pressures on the Earth’s natural systems build, there may
be some disconcerting surprises as trends interact, reinforcing each other
and triggering abrupt changes…

       Translation: they don’t have
a good disaster story of the week on hand, but certainly after decades
of such prophecising something, anything, must go wrong at some
point in the next century. This is, after all, a strategy that has worked
rather well for numerous failed religious prophets and psychics (in my
crystal ball, I see the assassination of an important world leader and
a deadly natural disaster sometime in the next century as well).

       According to WorldWatch’s Lester
Brown, the two major threats to the environment are global climate change
and population growth (which, of course, makes climate change worse).
The interesting thing about these threats is the level of uncertainty
in them. On the climate change fonrt, the amount of temperature increase
is constantly being revised downward (remember when environmentalists
were saying world temperatures were going to rise 5 to 7 degrees? Now
we’re talking about at most a 2 to 3 degree rise and there is an incredible
amount of uncertainty in that figure). More importantly, nobody has any
idea of exactly what a rise in temperature will mean for human beings.
Speculation about different scenarios that might happen abounds, but hard
facts about the implications of a temperature rise are rare — scientists
can’t even agree whether rising temperatures will cause a rise in sea
levels around the world.

       The same holds true for population
growth. The world is well on it sway to achieving a stable population
of somewhere between 8 and 10 billion people. Brown claims universal access
to family planning services sna decuation for women are key requirements
for achieving population stability. This is quite a heady retreat from
Brown’s days of predicting imminent famine and from when population advocates
shrilly called for everything from military intervention to boycotts of
food aid to certain parts of the world.

       The world certainly faces challenges
in the coming century, but we are not on the verge of an environmental
apocalypse. Policies designed to avert such an apocalypse will likely
be counterproductive as they divert resources away from pressing and easily
solved problems that don’t fit in the environmentalist paradigm, while
focusing resources on exotic problems where it’s still difficult to know
exactly what impact human intervention will have.

       The true environmental apocalypse
is not some vague “surprise” that may happen 50 years from now, but the
millison of Africans infected with malaria today and the millions
of children suffering from malnutrition, and the hundreds of thousands
of women dying from pregnancy-related complications.


World ‘faces environmental upsets.’ The BBC, January 15, 2000.

Almost 3 Million People A Year Killed By Malaria

The World Health Organization recently held a conference in Kenya
to find a way to control Malaria in Africa. According to WHO, malaria kills
an estimated 1.5 to 2.7 million people every year. A staggering 270 million
to 480 million people contract malaria each year. By comparison, WHO estimates
that somewhat over 40 million people have been infected with HIV worldwide since
the late 1970s, though the mortality rate for HIV is much higher — more than
11 million have died from AIDS since the late 1970s.

Africa is especially hit hard by malaria, with 90 percent of the world’s cases
occurring there. It’s no coincidence that Africa is both the poster child for
bad government and malaria, as the former contributes to the latter. As WHO
official Edwin Afari said, “They [malaria victims] die because they lack access
to health care, life-saving drugs and treated bed nets.” Of course its hard
to provide health care and lifesaving drugs in places like Ethiopia and Eritrea,
for example, which seem far more interested in fighting over their border, or
Angola where a 25-year-old civil war simply refuses to die (though the people
there are not so lucky).

But, of course, what has WHO targeted as the major health risk for the 22nd
century? Why smoking of course.

USAID to take on malaria

The U.S. Agency for International Development announced in late October that it was stepping up efforts to combat malaria using insecticide-treated mosquito netting and treatment clinics.

An October 30, 1997 Reuters report said USAID administrator Brian Atwood would announce the anti-malaria initiative at a conference on the malaria problem in Washington, DC. The report cited Dennis Carroll, the conference director, as claiming that field trials of insecticide-treated netting found it reduce the mortality rate of infants and children by up to 30 percent.

According to Reuters, malaria currently kills more than 2 million people worldwide, most of them children under the age of five.

More On Malaria

The Atlantic Monthly ran an enormous article in its August 1997 issue on the continued prevalence of Malaria worldwide. As author Ellen Ruppel Shell notes, almost 40 percent of the world’s population live in an area where malaria is endemic.

Shell chronicles how the World Health Organization set out to eradicate malaria in the 1950s only to see incidence rise to even higher levels by the 1960s when the eradication program was abandoned and replaced with a strategy designed to merely control the spread of malaria.

Today malaria kills close to 3 million people each year. Shell is to be credited for giving space to experts on malaria who note the often irrational fear over DDT (as opposed to rational concern about the excessive spraying of the pesticide) has removed an important method of reducing malaria deaths, although pesticide use remains a short term solution. For the long term Shell cites several nations which managed to dramatically reduce malaria deaths through extremely creative management of species which kill mosquitos.

Someday maybe malaria will be taken as seriously as a public health threat as AIDS, which kills less than half that claimed by malaria.