THINK ON THESE: FREE FROM MALARIA

THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio

“I read a news today, oh, boy…” so goes a line of a very popular song by The Beatles.

Well, these days, there are good news and there are bad news – but mostly bad news.  After all, bad news sell well.  When people talk about good news, they usually equate it with the Holy Bible.

In newspapers, good news are almost always buried in inside pages.  But just the same, I read good news because they brighten my days and inspire me that the world is still a good place to live.

One such recent good news is the report from Sun.Star Davao that the dreaded malaria is no longer reported in the three provinces of Davao region: Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, and Compostela Valley (soon to be named Davao de Oro).

Since July 2017, Davao region “has recorded zero cases of malaria,” wrote scribe Juliet C. Revita, adding that the success “can be attributed to the intensified health projects implemented in the communities.”

Source of information was Engr. Antonietta Ebol, the Davao regional dengue control and prevention program manager of the Department of Health. 

Although there are no more malaria cases reported, the health department has yet to declare the whole Davao region as malaria-free since two provinces – Davao del Sur and Davao del Norte – are still not acknowledged as such.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) lists the Philippines among the 10 malaria endemic countries in the Western Pacific region. One of the goals of the health department is to eliminate malaria from the country by 2020.

Of the 53-known provinces that are endemic for the disease, more than two dozen have already been declared malaria-free. These include the following: Cavite, Batangas, Marinduque, Catanduanes, Albay, Masbate, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, Guimaras, Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor, Western Samar, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Northern Leyte, Southern Leyte, Biliran, Camiguin, Surigao Del Norte, Benguet, Romblon, Batanes, and Dinagat Islands

“Malaria is by far the world’s most important tropical parasitic disease, and kills more people than any other communicable disease except tuberculosis,” the United Nations health agency deplores.  “In many developing countries, malaria exacts an enormous toll in lives, in medical costs, and in days of labor cost.”

Worldwide prevalence of the disease is estimated between 300 million to 500 million cases each year.  Annual death caused by the disease is estimated to be in the range of 1.5 million to 2.7 million. Every 12 seconds, one dies of malaria somewhere in the world.  “Malaria kills in one year what AIDS killed in 15 years,” the United Nations health agency declares. “In 15 years, if five million have died of AIDS, 50 million have died of malaria.”

Generally, malaria is spread by the bite of an infected female mosquito.  “Very rarely, the disease is transmitted through a transfusion of contaminated blood or an injection with a needle that was previously used by a person with malaria,” says The Merck Manual of Medical Information.

“The cycle of malarial infection begins when a female mosquito bites a person with malaria,” the Merck manual says.  “The mosquito ingests blood that contains malarial parasites. Once inside the mosquito, the parasite multiplies and migrates to the mosquito’s salivary gland.

“When the mosquito bites another person, the parasites are injected along with the mosquito’s saliva.  Inside the person, the parasites move to the liver and multiply again,” the manual continues. “They typically mature over an average of 1-3 weeks, then leave the liver and invade the person’s red blood cells.  The parasites multiply yet again inside the red blood cells, eventually causing the infected cells to rupture.”

There are four species of malaria parasites that can infect people: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale andPlasmodium malariae.  “Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale can remain in the liver in a dormant form that periodically releases mature parasites into the bloodstream, causing recurring attacks of symptoms,” the Merck manual says.

Malaria is curable – if known immediately.  A professor of medicine in one of the country’s leading universities visited a colleague working in the hinterlands of Palawan.  He stayed for at least two weeks. On the plane coming home, he developed shaking chills and a high fever, which he assumed were caused by either a urinary or respiratory tract infection.  Malaria was the further thing from his mind.

A few hours, the fever and shakes suddenly disappeared – without any treatment!  He was puzzled by this strange attack, and dismissed it as probably due to some unusual virus.  A couple of days later, while lecturing at a meeting in Pasay City, he suddenly developed another paroxysm of shaking chills and fever.  

It was so severe that he was unable to continue his presentation. A close friend who happened to be around made the right diagnosis of malaria, which was confirmed by a blood test.  He was successfully treated and has had no recurrence since.

Although people in the past were unaware of the origin of malaria and the mode of transmission, protective measures against the mosquito have been used for many hundreds of years. The inhabitants of swampy regions in Egypt were recorded as sleeping in tower-like structures out of the reach of mosquitoes, whereas others slept under nets as early as 450 B.C.

In the mid-1950s, the WHO predicted anti-malarial drugs and anti-mosquito insecticides would wipe out the disease within 40 years.  But a global “eradication” campaign petered out by 1970, and malaria roared back.