Malaria, a disease that has been mentioned several times throughout this course, can be effectively cured by medication, but it still remains prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, where it kills 3,000 African children a day. This parasitic disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. Once inside the body, the parasite destroys red blood cells and can clog cerebral arteries. Without treatment, the initial flu-like symptoms from infection can progress to life-threatening illness.
Malaria is a major public health issue in the poor countries of Africa, where it is tied to poverty in a grim cycle: the disease is a consequence of poverty, and at the same time further impoverishes the communities it affects. By preventing infected people from working, causing immeasurable human suffering from the loss of loved ones, leaving children with lasting neurological damage, requiring costly medication, and negatively impacting the economic decisions of households and entire nations, malaria has a devastating effect wherever it strikes. The governments of the countries where malaria has a high incidence are generally poor to begin with, and this lack of funding for treatment and prevention is a major barrier to controlling the disease. People with HIV or AIDS, which are also a major health concern in Africa, are particularly vulnerable to malaria. As malaria is such a large-scale global health problem, multiple health organizations like WHO and the World Bank, as well as the UN, donor governments, and various charitable organizations are focused on addressing it.
One medical anthropologist studying malaria in Africa is Dr. Vinay Kamat, a professor at the University of British Columbia who has focused his research on how recent changes in malaria medication and control strategies are affecting those afflicted with the disease. In a 2009 study, he researched how the Tanzanian government implemented new treatment guidelines that included the large-scale deployment of an artemether/lumefantrine-based combination therapy (ACT) medication commonly known as ALu. This medication is regarded as an effective treatment and a “key weapon” against malaria, but its high cost is unsustainable in the long-term for Tanzania without a significant donor. Dr. Kamat studied the public’s perspective on ALu as public health facilities began distributing it within the new policy. He found that the majority of mothers of children with malaria do not rush to the hospital within the initial onset of the disease; rather they rely on store-bought fever medications. Despite this, once at a health care facility, the mothers were satisfied with the efficacy of ALu, as well as its affordability due to the government subsidy. This study prompted further questioning of how to encourage early treatment of malaria, to avoid the delay between the onset of symptoms and proper treatment.
Bio of Vinay Kamat: http://www.anth.ubc.ca/people/anthropology-faculty/vinay-kamat.html
Kamat’s study in Tanzania: http://www.malariajournal.com/content/9/1/61
Basic facts on malaria: http://www.who.int/malaria/en/