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How important is malaria anyway?

April 30, 2010 - 13:33 -- Bart G.J. Knols

This may seem a ridiculous question. With 280 million people diseased every year, and 850.000 deaths, how can one argue that malaria is not important?

But maybe it isn't. This morning I wrote a blog titled 'Stuck in a pyramid of needs', where I used the famous 'Hierarchy of Needs' management model of Abraham Maslow to shed light on the complexity of development in a broad sense. 

Concern about malaria follows when people are capable of satisfying the needs of the bottom of the pyramid. Only when they have access to food, water, shelter and safety, will they get concerned about health. It's no different with malaria. And we know it.


I have always been amazed at those that argue that bednets can't be afforded by the poor. Such stories always come to mind when I am in the middle of nowhere, in some small village, and see men buying endless rounds of beers for their friends. In one evening that's several bednets... 


People want and invest in mobile telephones and scratch cards. The need is there and they fulfil that need. Why do we have to dish out nets for free? 


Another devil lies in the fact that malaria doesn't always kill. It's (semi)immunity that spoils efforts to raise the importance of malaria. It's like Europeans suffering from the flu once a year. We live through it, we even anticipate it. So it goes for malaria. 'Perhaps we're lucky this year and won't get it'. Malaria is like throwing the dice. School uniforms, in contrast, need hard cash. So that becomes the priority.


That malaria doesn't receive the highest priority is reflected in the recent press articles that tell us that we're still far from reaching the MDGs. Richard Tren highlighted the example of a Ugandan warehouse filled with antimalarials but clinics throughout the country being empty. Priority is the key word here.


And so, creating awareness is perhaps more important than I would previously believe...  



Ingeborg van Schayk's picture
Submitted by Ingeborg van Schayk on

During my years in Eastern and Southern Africa I often wondered if people who were struggling to feed their families today, not knowing if they would have anything to eat tomorrow, had malaria on top of their priority list. I used to work with communities in Western Kenya (Mbita point and Rusinga Island) and when I ask teenagers of 12 & 13 years old (praise their honesty!) about the use of bednets I learned the following: the majority of these kids had a bednet but were not using it. Why not? They mentioned it was too hot and that they previously never used a bednet so they were used to sleeping without a net. When I asked them about using a bednet to prevent getting malaria they told me that they used the bednets for some time but they still got malaria. So why use a bednet? These were just some comments from some kids somewhere in Africa. Information and awareness raising are definitely invaluable.