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Battle against deadly disease needs a decade of dedicated work.
Over the last five years, we have experienced a similarly stunning decline in the number of deaths from malaria. The leading drug for treating malaria infection — artemisinin combination therapy — is now available at every single health facility in Rwanda. If someone gets sick with malaria, there’s no reason to suffer. Fighting malaria gathers momentum quickly: higher treatment rates combined with bed net utilization quickly lower the rate of malaria in the population. Total eradication remains tricky — that would require ecological changes as well — but we do know that there’s no reason for anyone to die or suffer from malaria today.
There’s a maintenance side to all of this, of course. When malaria cases drop, people tend not to be as religious about using their nets, which can in turn lead to resurgence. That’s why it’s so critical not to simply talk about the amazing results and progress we’ve achieved to date on World Malaria Day, but rather to keep talking about it.
Tweet it, Facebook it, blog about it, get the word out until the last death due to this horrible disease is only a memory. On that day, it will be time to start the process all over again, because this is a pernicious and crafty parasite. We must always remain vigilant in the fight and supportive of those working on public health’s front lines, lest Mother Nature catch us resting on our laurels.
Josh Ruxin is Assistant Clinical Professor of Public Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Director of the Access Project in Rwanda.