A 15-year plan is laid out by the government to eliminate the vector borne epidemic malaria beginning from 2016 to 2030, according to Dr. Amit Sharma, head and structural computation biology, International Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (IGEB). He is also winner of the Infosys Prize 2015 for Life Science.
The country is a critical channel to be monitored for malaria spread. This is because, currently, malaria is prevalent in India, Sub Saharan Africa, South East Asia, China and parts of Middle East. Another reason is that Chloroquine resistance in South East Asia is migrating to India. There is also resistance to the best discovered drug Artemisinin reported in Mynamar which is 20 km from the Indian border. There is a need to exercise caution, since malaria has defeated many drugs in the past, he added.
The total elimination of malaria in India is a reasonably achievable goal. The control of this disease is not just with drugs, but public awareness, economic development, use of preventive methods like spraying insecticides, mosquito nets and a concerted effort to create a hygienic environment. “We are confident that if this is implemented properly, we could achieve the goal. Malaria can be controlled and tracked down with political will,” he said.
Dr. Sharma, was in Bengaluru for the Infosys Prize Lecture at National Centre of Biological Sciences (NCBS) to address on ‘Malaria: A biomarker for national development’, said that next big solution for the control of this disease will come from drugs and not vaccines. India is resource-limited and should go forward with a state-specific strategy to control the spread. This will enable elimination of pockets of disease concentration.
Malaria is endemic and causing an epidemic. With global warming, there will be an increase in the incidence of malaria, noted Dr. Sharma.
Giving a global perspective about the disease, he said malaria can be fully controlled. Between 2000 and 2015, there has been a 40 per cent decrease in transmission and 60 percent fall in fatalities. In 1900, the whole world was affected by malaria. Today, around 15 to 20 nations are joining the club of countries where malaria is eliminated. These include Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Mexico. These countries have been able to achieve 1 malaria case per 1,000 inhabitants. India has not maintained any records of malaria incidence. But Sri Lanka in South Asia serves a great example as a malaria-free country.
In order to effectively get rid of malaria, the need of the hour is to seek to destroy both the parasite and mosquito, besides administering the Artemisinin-based combination treatment to reduce the transmission of infection. Further, mobile clinics, community engagements, education and reliance on insecticides will support elimination of the disease, he said adding that the IGEB has a drug candidate ready for pre-clinical study and is a single dose clearance of all parasites.