PORTUGUESE SCIENTISTS have shown that it is possible to eliminate Malaria from regions where the disease is endemic.
A mathematical model has demonstrated for the first time that the disease, which kills two million people a year and infects up to 500 million, can be eradicated.
The model has been developed by scientists at the Gulbenkian Institute of Science (IGC) in Oeiras in conjunction with British colleagues in Kenya.
The mathematical model and its results published in the science magazine PlusOne studied malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. The model takes into account the importance of hidden Malaria cases – when patients become infected but remain asymptomatic. In such cases, the infected patients develop a successful immune response to the parasite and act as carriers.
The model shows that these ‘carriers’ are important to the overall development of Malaria because they can spread the disease to other uninfected people.
The Malaria mosquito, anopheles, even though it may itself be uninfected, can bite these infected people and then transmit the parasite to uninfected people.
Asymptomatic patients can carry the parasite in the blood and remain infectious for up to six months before the body’s immune system fully eradicates it.
“The percentage of the population that can carry the Malaria parasite is quite large, even if it is variable,” says Gabriela Gomes, 42, one of the scientists who developed the model.
It can vary from anything between two per cent in areas of low transmission to 90 per cent in high transmission areas.
Scientists say that the disease transmission rate is six times higher from asymptomatic patients than from a patient exhibiting clinical symptoms such as fever and sweats.
This means that it is simply not enough to treat symptomatic infected patients and mosquito breeding grounds but whole populations with anti-malarial drugs.
“In the long run, it’s cheaper, simpler and easier to treat whole communities at risk, even those who don’t have the parasite,” said Gabriela Gomes, who accepts it will take immense human resources and money.
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