World Malaria Day: Invest in the future,Defeat Malaria

Observers note that the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day, “ Invest in the future. Defeat malaria’’, is full of messages, while the messages are full of expectations.

Around 3.2 billion people are at risk of malaria, a disease that kills almost half a million children under the age of five a year in Africa. On World Malaria Day, observed annually on 25 April, the World Health Organization is calling for continued research and investment into prevention and control to tackle the disease.

The theme for 2015, Invest in the future: Defeat Malaria, reflects the current global strategy to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 90% by 2030. In the past decade, four countries have been declared free of the disease – a huge gain in the fight against malaria. Since 2000, mortality rates have dropped by 47% around the world, thanks to ongoing efforts.

To mark World Malaria Day on Saturday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released updated guidelines for the treatment of the disease, especially for malaria-endemic regions such as South East Asia. However, experts have said that some of these new guidelines are already in practice and some are debatable.

The first recommendation made by the WHO is use of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). Artemisinina and its derivatives are a group of drugs that possess the most rapid action of all current drugs against malaria. Treatments containing an artemisinin derivative (artemisinin-combination therapies) are now standard treatment for malaria worldwide.

The second recommendation by states: “To ensure malaria drugs are used only for those who have the disease and that — when a test is negative — other causes of fever are investigated.”

Doctors from India said this is already an established protocol for treating malaria. The second recommendation by the international health agency, however, was not well received by them.

“The second guideline is not something that can be blindly followed in a malaria-endemic country ours. Many a times, patients test false negative. In such cases, the clinician’s judgement becomes imperative in administering malarial treatment based on symptoms and empirical findings,” said Dr Monica Goel, consultant physician at Hinduja Hospital.

“These are guidelines or advisory frameworks and must not be assumed to be directives. If a clinician has a high index of suspicion and test reports are negative, it is well within the doctor’s judgment to treat a case for malaria,” said Dr Hemant Thacker, consultant physician at Bhatia Hospital.

The third key recommendation by the WHO said the most vulnerable groups in malaria-endemic areas — pregnant women, children under five and infants — should receive preventive treatment to reduce the risk of malaria. The experts said there is no preventive treatment for malaria.