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Failure of 20th Century War Against Malaria Explored at British Science Festival

The war against malaria in the tropics was lost in the 20th Century as the disease was treated with the same methods in tropical and temperate countries, according to LIDC member Dr Colin Sutherland. He highlighted at the Festival of Science on 10 September how tactics that worked in the US, Greece and Italy were also deployed in tropical countries, despite the existence of evidence that they would they not work, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Previous eradication efforts
Sutherland, a Senior Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), delivered a presentation in Liverpool during the prestigious week-long event organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA). His talk was part of a session entitled "How science addresses developing world issues". Sutherland explained: "Previous efforts to eradicate malaria, if considered on a nation-by-nation basis, only succeeded in countries where the Plasmodium parasite was weak and its mosquito vector was vulnerable, particularly where populations were wealthy enough to afford the best tools available. The failure to eradicate malaria in tropical countries, where the parasite is now at its strongest, and the mosquitoes are doing very well, thank you very much is, in part, due to the miscalculation that a one-size-fits-all approach would be effective in every setting – a miscalculation that could have been avoided if we had heeded the evidence from Africa over half a century ago".
Incremental scientific advances
Sutherland cautioned against the obsession among the western media with the "scientific breakthrough", a concept which consequently dominates popular notions of science. Although breakthroughs do occur, and are undoubtedly newsworthy when they do, it is the careful synthesis of incremental advances in knowledge, and the dissemination of that knowledge to key decision-makers, health ministries and governments that will help us win the war against malaria. His talk examined the best ways of achieving this, with a particular focus on open access publishing. It also emphasised the importance of training and support for high calibre African scientists. Sutherland concluded: "In the war against malaria, knowledge is the most powerful weapon we have".
Climate change

LIDC member Sari Kovats, a Lecturer at LSHTM, also participated in the Festival of Science. On 10 September she delivered a presentation, entitled "

Health impacts of climate change: Current and future heat waves, how do they affect our health, and what should we do about them?",

during a session called "Sustainability Through Statistics".


Click here to listen

to Sutherland and Kovats and other Festival of Science attendees from LSHTM in the latest set of Global Health Podcasts prepared by Audio Medica

This article is a slightly amended version of a press release, entitled "'Dodgy dossier' partly to blame for failure of war against malaria in the tropics", from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). To interview Dr Colin Sutherland please contact Gemma Howe in the LSHTM Press Office on 07828 617901.