August 9, 2012
By Natalie Friedricks
Following proper treatment protocols and approaching disease with caution is wise. This fact was really driven home by today’s lecturer Dr. Guerin. Besides possible obvious dangers such as patient death, there exists an added risk of resistance. In the fight against infectious diseases this is possibly one of the scariest factors. In areas where most people have access to very few medicines at all, many will die if a resistant strain emerges.
The focus of this discussion was on malaria, one of the world’s biggest killers. Ranked currently as one of the top ten most deadly diseases across the world, malaria affects over 250 million people presenting as a quick killer or chronic illness. It is caused by the infection of a person with a Plasmodium parasite, and is transmitted via mosquito vectors. The parasites settle in the liver, replicating and later destroying red blood cells causing possible anemia and blood flow problems to vital organs. This is a big problem in many developing nations where proper conditions (high temperatures, low elevation, etc.) and low levels of industrialization occur. The good news, however, is that malaria is both a preventable and curable disease. But, a lack of general resources in developing countries makes this very difficult.
The WHO recommends using combination therapy to combat malaria. This technique involves taking multiple medications to treat the disease to prevent the rapid development of resistance. But a problem with this technique that Dr. Guerin pointed out today was that when people had very little medication, or had to travel long distances to reach the nearest health center, many of them did not take all of the drugs at once. These people would instead save some of the pills for later use, or even share them amongst family members. By not taking the full prescription, these people are promoting resistance as they let existing parasites in the body adapt to the new medication. These parasites, now resistant to the medication, can then be transmitted to other people causing mortality levels to rise as drugs are rendered useless. In a more developed country, this would not be as big of an issue due to the availability of alternate medicines. But in a country such as Mali where medications are in short supply, this could result in many more severe malaria cases. This lack of access to healthcare then led to these more dangerous strains developing, making this not solely a concern for people in medicine but for political and economic leaders.
With our discussion following the lecture we tried to brainstorm on what the problem in our global society was that could be targeted to alleviate some of these problems in developing nations. The talk moved from science immediately to socioeconomic factors. The largest being what we and many of our lecturers described as a lack of equity. What we meant was that some areas of the world have better healthcare than others, as well as more resources. To alleviate this unequal care giving, aid groups from various governments and NGOs have popped up. These groups have made a large impact, but more could be done. With social pressure large companies could also be forced to donate more to these causes making it not only the right thing to do, but an economically smart thing to do to promote their products. Governments around the world must also make the development of Africa a priority. Many of the challenges Africa faces are due to the problem of overpopulation, and with education and industrialization their birth rates may decrease and their dependency on foreign aid may also be diminished.
These goals are definitely hard to accomplish. With recent the recent economic decline, aid groups are giving less and less every year. There is also a lack of awareness in more affluent countries such as the United States that makes reform of any kind all the more difficult. But, there is some hope. Perhaps if we educate ourselves on the problems within our global society, we can work together to fix these problems. As our professor Dr. Quinn said, “Act locally, think globally.”
Natalie is a sophomore majoring in Biology from Los Angeles. She hopes to attend medical school to become a surgeon someday.