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Guest Editorial: Malaria in Palestine, a lesson for all of us.

February 18, 2012 - 15:59 -- Bart G.J. Knols

This Guest Editorial was written by Anton Alexander (retired solicitor, UK), based on an online presentation about Palestine and how it freed itself from malaria. No doubt of interest to those studying the history of malaria, but equally important for those that are criticial about malaria elimination. 

"Sadly, malaria is often treated by the media in many western countries as a fashion item - it goes quiet and out of fashion, then returns as a topic that is newsworthy, and then quiet again. Many pay lip-service to the destructive and dangerous consequences of the disease. Others treat it as something to which they do not relate, or as something only in far distant places, or it occurs only to other people, and it doesn't impinge on their comfortable lifestyles. It may be that if the western world honestly took malaria seriously, with a priority given to funding malaria eradication and research, we may be that much closer to the discovery of that 'silver bullet' to attack and rid the world of this dreadful disease.
In the meantime, the website is an attempt to address the problems of a) getting as many people as possible to connect with the existence and problem of malaria, and b) demonstrating to the inhabitants of malarious areas what can be achieved by wholeheartedly co-operating with the scientists in implementation of eradication schemes.
The presentation shows firstly thinly populated, often uninhabitable, areas of the Holy Land, Palestine, 100 years ago, the future of these areas having been prophesied by the British Mandate in 1918 'as almost hopeless from the malarial standpoint'. Alongside each old photo is a photo taken now of the same location but after eradication of malaria had taken place. This was done to contrast the 'before' and 'after', to demonstrate the contribution of malaria to the desolation and barrenness of the landscape. There are also statistics displayed to show malaria casualties of 90 years ago. And all to make malaria a little more vivid in the eyes of people generally who have been unable so far to relate at all to malaria, including many 16-18 years old who are thinking of travelling before university.
(Incidentally, last year I assisted in arranging an exhibition for approx. 1,000 16-18 years old students. Because I knew of the likelihood that some students would be travelling before university, I displayed malaria information with warnings to complete the anti-malaria medication even after their return. I also displayed the traditional statistics 'that a child dies every 30-45secs in Africa' in order to shock these students about malaria. To my disappointment, the display was ignored, and the students showed complete disinterest in it!)
It must be remembered that Palestine almost 100 years ago was often described as 'soaked' in malaria, and yet within 45 years, the area was declared as 'malaria eradicated'. The website presentation therefore explains some of the basic procedures and steps taken to eradicate the disease, including collection of data regarding the prevalence of the disease, and the types and breeding places of the mosquitoes. This collection of data went hand in hand with the education of the public in regard to controlling the disease, and the value of this education was stated to be as important as the immediately practical results obtained. The population immediately involved had to be determined enough to assist and to co-operate with the steps and procedures asked of it by the scientists, and the population had to be taught and to also appreciate the ultimate benefits to be achieved. The population was aware of the eradication engineering works taking place at the same time, so the inhabitants could connect and relate to the education in controlling the disease. They knew this education was not some theoretical exercise.
The Holy Land had been the frequent goal of many travellers and photographers 100 years ago, and so photographs of that time of the desolation and sparsely populated countryside were readily available. Also, the League of Nations, having in 1925 inspected the malaria eradication works, and the Health Department of the British Mandate all commented on the state and condition of the area. And so the contrast that is available between the 'then' and the 'now' in the website may hopefully serve to shock an audience ignorant of malaria into understanding just how devastating and destructive the disease can be, and also provide the inhabitants of malarious areas with the hope of what may be achieved through co-operation with eradication procedures.