As New Crises Emerge, Let’s Not Let Up on the Old Ones

Like hundreds of other doctors from around the world, I started this year in Sierra Leone, where the national health system was near collapse amid the Ebola crisis.

My mission was unrelated to Ebola, whose rapid and lethal spread was igniting fears of a worldwide catastrophe. Instead, I was there to help shore up the country’s efforts to fight malaria, which was flaring up around the capital city of Freetown.

The outbreak was centred in the same areas of Sierra Leone where Ebola was taking hold. Caused by parasites and transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, malaria can kill. But, with the proper use of the right tools, it is preventable and curable.

I was 3 months into my job as Director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Programme in Geneva, where I was on new terrain. But my visit to Africa returned me to familiar ground. I had spent 30 years in such far-flung places as The Gambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. During that time, I had evaluated tools like anti-malarial medication and insecticide-treated bednets and learned how they could save lives.

As the threat of Ebola grew, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health mobilized 10 000 volunteers to quell the malaria outbreak. In just a few days, working with WHO and its partners, they treated nearly 3 million people in and around Freetown – more than 80% of the people in the targeted areas. Their primary weapon: a cheap and readily available combination of drugs that include artemisinin.

That work also helped in the fight against Ebola: By reducing the number of malaria cases, the campaign reduced the number of people with fever. That was important because anyone with fever required isolation to exclude the possibility that it was caused by Ebola.

Soon after, the malaria outbreak —> Read More