Worse than Ebola? Yes, definitely.
But not so ugly. Not so compelling to our morbid fascination with blood and pain and suffering.
Yesterday, Her Majesty the Queen reminded us* that our top-of-mind preoccupation with Ebola is deflecting us from an even greater threat.
One that kills more victims every day than the current Ebola outbreak has in total.
A threat to us all
You see, Ebola might be lethal, but we CAN actually kill it.
But malaria is not a virus. It’s a parasite spread by mosquitoes.
And like Ebola at the moment, there is no vaccine for it.
Make no mistake, malaria is way more deadly.
In 2012 the World Health Organisation put half the world at risk from malaria with 207 million cases reported and 627,000 deaths. Most of these were children under 15 – from parasites passed on by their mothers.
In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 200,000 infants die from it every year.
One child every 60 seconds.
So Her Majesty is right, we’re taking our eye off the ball.
We need to beat both Ebola and malaria in the same way.
Treat cause, not symptoms
Our mothers taught us this, but we never seem to remember – PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE.
Get to both of these killers before they get to us, and we’re safe.
In fact striking the first blow is fast becoming our most effective weapon.
Because right now, health professionals around the world are seriously worried about resistance to both these diseases.
Yesterday was European Antibiotic Awareness Day – underlined by the threat that more and more bacteria are developing immunity to treatment by antibiotics.
Widespread use, particularly through agriculture, has led to many antibiotics becoming completely ineffective. At a stroke, our major defence against infections – particularly in hospital surgical procedures – is gone.
Which means as soon as we find a cure for Ebola, it may be defeated. We need to clobber it first.
It’s the same with malaria.
Get those mosquitoes
Saturation use by agriculture of the insecticide DDT – originally intended as an indoor residual spray (IRS) – led to mosquitoes developing an immunity and a return to epidemic levels in poorer parts of the world like Ivory Coast, Angola, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Mali. The parasites are also drug resistant.
Sure mosquito nets help, especially those one treated with pyrethroids – made from an organic compound found naturally in the flowers of pyrethrum lilies. Harmless to humans, it attacks the nervous system of the mosquito and kills it.
Problem solved – but with a downside.
It’s also toxic to bees, fish and cats.
Bees pollinate the flowers of fruit trees and other food plants – and already this year bees in Britain are becoming scarce because of the warm, wet summer. Fish of course, are part of a whole long food chain. And cats have a whole army of people on their side.
So it’s back to DDT, as long as it’s used indoors. But pyrethroids work and are highly effective at killing mosquitoes. Along with other insecticides, they just need care.
Same thing with viruses and bacteria. They’re easily oxidised – particularly by ionised hydrogen peroxide. A quick spray of super-fine mist and ALL germs are gone – the whole place is sterilised.
Problem solved again – but also with a downside.
Oxidising kills ALL viruses and bacteria – including the useful ones. So again care has to be taken in how it’s done. Treating empty indoor areas room-by-room works best. Without people present there is no hazard and sterile rooms are safe to use afterwards.
Care and diligence
As long as we are watchful and careful, both Ebola and malaria can be overcome – and other dread diseases besides.
Thank you, Your Majesty, for bringing us up to the mark.
*At the launch a new leadership academy at Chatham House in London.
Originally posted 2014-11-19 14:53:50.