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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 01:24 GMT 02:24 UK


Specialists declare war on malaria

Mosquitoes transmit the disease

Specialists are converging on London to discuss ways to beat malaria, a disease that strikes one person in 20 worldwide each year and causes a number of deaths equal to the population of Birmingham.

They say that although incidence of the disease continues to grow each year, governments from around the world do not do enough to combat it.

This is particularly galling as it is an easier condition to treat than Aids or TB, even though in many countries those diseases are given higher priority.

Specialists from various fields - including charities, drug companies and researchers - are meeting for the first time to discuss the issues at a seminar in London on Wednesday.

Research money

Researchers seeking a malaria vaccine have warned in recent months that although they are on the verge of success, continued governmental support is essential if they are to take the crucial final steps.

[ image: One million people - equivalent to the population of Birmingham - die from the disease each year]
One million people - equivalent to the population of Birmingham - die from the disease each year
However, money is not the only issue at stake - many specialists argue that if the existing resources were better focused, the disease could be better controlled.

Wednesday's meeting will bring together specialists to discuss how this can be achieved, as well as highlighting the extent of the disease and the measures needed to control it.

It follows on from the launch of the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria campaign, which seeks to eradicate the disease by the year 2010.


David Nabarro, head of the project, will address the meeting on how the campaign is progressing, as well as outlining the challenges facing it.

These include things such as climate change - leading to the insects that carry the disease moving to new countries - and increasing resistance to the drugs used to treat it.

However, he is expected to say that continued investment and political commitment is essential if these obstacles are to be overcome.

His position is likely to be supported by Dr Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a specialist who has studied the effectiveness of various approaches to the disease.

Although Dr Greenwood believes present techniques can be refined to be more effective, the disease is so rampant in some areas that only new approaches will defeat it - and this will require more funding for research.

Cost of disease

Merlin, the international medical relief agency, is organising the conference.

It points to figures showing that:

  • There are 300 million cases of malaria reported each year
  • Every second, 10 new cases are reported
  • This is almost five times as many as of Aids, TB, measles and leprosy combined
  • One million people die from the disease each year
  • The cost of the disease in terms of health care and lost productivity is estimated at £1.1bn a year
"This is a disease that is crippling and potentially fatal, yet unlike Aids or TB can be so easily treated," a spokeswoman said.

"In the UK, we already have the medical capabilities to bring lasting change to the lives of many."

The meeting takes place at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society at 14.00 BST.

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