Dr. David Brandling-Bennett, deputy director of the malaria programme at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says that recent success in Zambia is proof that real progress can be made in the fight against malaria. AllAfrica recently spoke with him about current tools being used to fight the disease, the prospect for a vaccine and the hope of new drugs to accelerate progress.
Carlos (Kent) Campbell says the world is essentially on the brink of something great when it comes to malaria - do you agree?
I certainly agree that the situation today is very different from what it was 10 years ago and probably even five years ago. Everywhere, in Africa and outside Africa, the malaria burden cases and deaths are down and that is palpable. And certainly in Africa it's very different from anything we have seen previously. Even outside of Africa, in Asia and the Americas, we have seen significant declines for the past decade. We're almost back to levels we last saw during the previous eradication effort (in the 1960s) where malaria cases were reduced with intensive effort, quite significantly. It's great to see this progress.
To what extent is the malaria fight a race against time?
We need to get this done as quickly as we can. Malaria fights back, and recent gains can be lost if we don't keep up the momentum. The longer it takes, the more we will have to deal with issues of the parasite's resistance and the ability of the human population to sustain a long-term effort. Hopefully, we will be able to contain drug resistance before it goes to Africa.
Insecticide resistance is a much wider problem. At this point, it's not clear that it has that much of an impact but we have to assume that level of resistance will rise and at some point will impact our programs. It has the ability to seriously compromise what we are doing, so the sooner we do it the better and by doing it sooner we are also going to be saving more lives.