In the run-up to the fourth annual World Malaria Day there are have been a flurry of new reports documenting scientific breakthroughs, progress, and the on-going need. In the past few days for example The Institute for One World Health announced that it is ready to enter the production and distribution phase of developing a semi-synthetic form of artemisinin, the most effective anti-malarial drug.
The problem is that while the focus will be on scientific developments, the obstacles to eradicating malaria are as much political as they are scientific.
Malaria is both preventable and curable, and it is has essentially been eliminated from the developed world. But 300-500 million people continue to get infected with malaria around the globe each year and there are more than 800,000 deaths, mostly of children whose less mature immune systems make them the most vulnerable.
Of course they are not only vulnerable, they are so poor and marginalized that they are also voiceless – and therefore there are literally no economic or political incentives and therefore no markets for serving them. They might as easily be considered victims of a fatal case of political laryngitis.
This is true for more than just those who are victims of malaria. There are other so-called neglected diseases, often parasitic, like schistosomiasis lesihmaniasis and Chagas disease. And there is also hunger, malnutrition,
This would be an equally proper focus for World Malaria Day – with special attention to those who are working to create alternative market mechanisms to compensate for the lack of economic and political markets.
As I’ve tried to chronicle in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, some of the most unlikely but most promising entrepreneurship and innovations are coming out of labs like those of Steve Hoffman, Jay Keasling, and Stephan Kappe.
But some of the most promising innovations are also coming from outside of science: from economists, activists, and advocates. These include organizations like Nothing but Nets, Imagine No Malaria, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which are also trying to build political will.