Better Lives Blog
Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Life Finds a Way

Tom Putzer

            

WHO Headquarters in Geneva

In the movie Jurassic Park, the park scientists and paleontologists assure visitors that they are safe – they have taken all the necessary precautions to prevent the dinosaurs they created from prehistoric DNA from getting out of control. Jeff Goldblum’s character, Professor Ian Malcolm, responds that it’s unrealistic to think that it’s possible to control for all the variables: “If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free; it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

So what do dinosaurs have to do with malaria? Malaria is transmitted by Plasmodium parasites through the bites of mosquitoes. And these parasites are consistently finding a way to evolve in the face of long-term singular malaria-preventative approaches, whether its tools like bed nets, pesticides, or drugs.

A common malaria-treatment drug, artemisinin, typically clears the body of malaria parasites in a day or so. Today in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), midwives and community health workers are seeing that it is taking several days for artemisinin to do this, or it’s not working at all. And our past serves as a predictor of our future here. Over the past 100 years, most first-line antimalarial drugs have eventually been rendered ineffective because of resistant parasites encountered in the GMS. From this foundation of resistance, the parasites gradually spread west through Bangladesh, India, and eventually to Sub-Saharan Africa. This ultimately leads to the resurgence of malaria. And we are at risk of this happening again.

It’s stories of resistance like this one that leads us to partner with our Global Public Health stakeholders. This week, my Base of the Pyramid Group colleague, Maude Meier, and I joined forces with WHO, governments of malaria-stricken countries, and organizations devoted to eradicating malaria at the Global Collaboration for Development of Pesticides for Public Health (GCDPP) in Geneva. The intent of this collaboration is to enact approaches to monitor and address the increasing resistance that we’re seeing.

So this ongoing resistance means that we will continue to need new tools if we hope to eradicate malaria. And that’s where SC Johnson comes in. Our role in all of this is to develop new, efficacious tools that prevent transmission of malaria. When we develop a tool that is shown to be efficacious, we know that it may not always remain efficacious – eventually, the parasites will likely find a way to evolve to any new tool. So ultimately, this ongoing resistance serves as a driver for us in the fight against malaria.

The parasites find a way, and so do we.

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