“Over the past decade, Zanzibar’s malaria prevalence has dropped to less than 1 percent, virtually eliminating hospital admissions and death due to malaria. 
Despite the good news, Zanzibar’s history provides a cautionary tale in the fight against malaria. This is the third time in 40 years Zanzibar has come close to eliminating this disease. In the past, the government gave up the fight too soon, and malaria came surging back. This time will be different, vow officials at every level of the government.”

That is from a recent blog post by Gabrielle Fitzgerald, Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation blogging from the idyllic island in the Indian Ocean. Fitzgerald is traveling with Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, Ray Chambers, the UN Special envoy for Malaria, and Tachi Yamada, President of the Global Health Program at the Gates Foundation.

I thought this quote was particularly sobering, with all of the fanfare about the extraordinary progress currently being made in Africa against malaria – in particular on the island of Zanzibar – it is a useful reminder of how great of a challenge remains. The elimination of malaria is still an ambitious goal and one that is far from certain to be achieved.

So what is different this time around? I think it is fair to say that we have more tricks out up sleeve this time around. Spraying was key to progress against malaria in the past, and this remains as true today, but in addition we have more effective medicines and bed nets to help eliminate prevalence of the parasites. All of these help.

There are also many strong organizations out there trying to push this through and certainly more money. Organizations like the Gates Foundation, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and the US government’s President’s Malaria Initiative have put money on the table to make things happen. But this is not the first time malaria elimination has been pushed by the international health apparatus – it was a big focus of the WHO many decades ago.

Zanzibar is a special case – it is small island – which makes fighting the disease a little bit easier. If it can happen here – and it looks like it might – than it might be doable elsewhere as well. If we have any hope of eliminating Malaria we will need to see evidence from trailblazing places like Zanzibar.

So will it be enough? For the 250 million people who fall ill to malaria each year and the nearly million of people who succumb to the disease every year (mostly children) let’s hope it is. The last inch will likely be the hardest, and it is certainly the most important.

Photo Credits to Eric Lafforgue, who has tons of beautiful photos of Africa on his website.

P.S. For those who are wondering, yes, Zanzibar is that beautiful. If you have not been, you should definitely planning a trip. It is by far my favorite place in the whole entire world.

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1 Response » to “Is the third time the charm for Malaria elimination in Zanzibar?”

  1. naman shah says:

    Cautious optimism is the message here. Success though won't tell us much about possibilities elsewhere (it is a special case as you note) but failure certainly will.

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