What is malaria?
Malaria is caused by the bite of an infected female mosquito Anopheles gambia, also known as malaria vectors. In a majority of cases infected females carry the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, a unicellular protist contracted from the bite of an infected human. The plasmodium falciparum will enter the blood stream after two weeks of rapid reproduction, from few to nearly ten thousand, in the liver of the human host. Plasmodium falciparum attaches to red blood cells and destroys or infects them so they can survive and reproduce further. The effects that can be seen in red blood cells are change in shape, a more rigid membrane, the permeability of the membrane is elevated, and glucose synthesis is accelerated significantly. As a result, symptoms of an infection include fever, headache, and vomiting but aren’t felt until about a week after the infection has occurred. The infection will continue to develop if untreated which can lead to cerebral malaria, when there is a lack of blood being transported to the brain due to blocked capillaries, which often leads to death.
“Plasmodium falciparium parasite“ By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Who is affected by malaria?
In 1900 malaria was a world wide disease. It was first eradicated in America, then Northern Europe, then by other wealthy countries, but now has been confined to only less wealthy countries. Africa is the most common place for malaria infestations as almost 90% of cases have been reported there. There are other reasons besides wealth for why malaria is still an issue in Africa, which include an efficient mosquito (in this case Anopheles gambiae), a location where Plasmodium falciparum is highly populated, weather conditions that allow for infection to occur year round and allow for longer mosquito lifespans.
“Approximation of parts of the world where malaria transmission occur”
How can we end malaria?
There are close to one million deaths from malaria every year a majority of with are children. Without a complete effort to eradicate the disease it will likely be around for an unnecessarily long period of time. If small efforts are made to eradicate the disease it’s likely the parasite and mosquito will evolve and repopulate so they are all immune to the method of termination. It is possible to make a strong push in localized areas and completely rid any mosquitoes carrying the disease; however, when a large portion of the continent is affected the disease would return relatively shortly. There are other ways to limit malaria deaths which include use of the plant Artemisia Annua, which contain compounds that can destroy Plasmodium (Used for centuries in China), bed nets where a mother and child stay under the net at night as infected mosquitoes only bite from night till morning, DDT, and rapid diagnostic tests (RDP) a cheap and fast tool to help determine if individuals are infected. Bed nets along with DDT spray have cut the death total in half in certain countries, but they will never be able to completely rid the disease.
“Transmission process of malaria” By Medical Daily
Crispr gene drive is one method which has the potential to completely rid the disease. Crispr gene drive is an alteration of genes in individuals which are prioritized, or selfish genes, so when the individual has offspring a much larger percentage will contain the selfish gene. Gene drive could be used in one of two ways, the first is to build a mosquito which is unable to carry any malaria causing plasmodium. The second is to make a gene that would cause females to become sterile which would eventually lead to the the extinction of the species. The later could lead to food problems in ecosystems but could also eliminate any other mosquito bound diseases. It is estimated that if male mosquitoes with the gene drive to cause females to be sterile are released into the wild, mosquitoes could become extinct within one year or 11 generations.
“What is a Gene Drive? By STAT
There are organizations pursuing the use of Crispr gene drive to eliminate mosquitoes which include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Roll Back Malaria, Malaria No More, Nothing But Nets, along with many more. Bill Gates is an active optimist when it comes to malaria, even doing TED talks about the matter. The Gates foundation has the ultimate goal of releasing the gene drive mosquitoes by 2029 which would ultimately cause their extinction. Whether or not extinction is the direction to go in eliminating the disease, it’s an effort that’s being made to end malaria once and for all. “There is more money put into baldness drugs than malaria.” (Bill Gates) I may be speaking as someone with a full head of hair, but I think something needs to change.