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How could electricity be better than a malaria vaccine?

January 10, 2013 - 15:42 -- William Jobin

Well, for one thing, we know how to build durable electric power supplies.
When 17 hydroelectric dams were built on the Tennessee River in the southern USA after the Second World War, malaria disappeared from the region within a few years, and never returned. This was before DDT and chloroquine. Why? Because the availability of adequate water and affordable electricity resulted in increased income for the people, better housing with screens, and electric fans that made sleeping indoors comfortable in the hot, humid malaria season.

There is a similar story in Turkmenistan where most of the population lives along the Amu Darya River with its hydroelectric dams. Malaria disappeared from Turkmenistan in 2009, when not only fans but even air conditioning reached rural areas.

The story was also repeated in Mauritius where malaria disappeared in 1990, the same year that electric service was expanded throughout the island. Since 1964 when the Aswan Dam was constructed on the Nile River, Egypt has not experienced a return of malaria, despite continuous threats of invasion by Anopheles gambiae from Sudan.

According to the Christian Science Monitor of 1 January 2013, Africa’s per capita energy consumption is growing faster than any place in the world. In the last 5 years there have been 64 major discoveries of potential fuel supplies. And massive hydroelectric dams are being built on the Nile River and most of the major rivers in Africa. Watch for the effect on malaria. The advantage in these successful examples of durable malaria suppression with electricity is that malaria will not return when drug resistance or biocide resistance does. People sleep comfortably indoors, behind screens, during the malaria transmission season. That’s a lot better protection than even a mythical vaccine could give.

National malaria control folks should contact their Ministry of Electricity to coordinate planning for suppression of malaria.