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Scientists Find New Approaches to Fight Malaria

Malaria kills more than one million people around the world every year. It is especially severe in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to over 90 percent of all malaria cases. The disease has proven to be elusive due to the fact that mosquitoes breed quickly and have developed resistance to previously effective insecticides. A look at some new approaches scientists are working on to fight malaria.

Malaria is one of the three most prevalent serious diseases in the world. The others are tuberculosis and AIDS. Nearly 500 million people are infected worldwide each year. More than one million die.

According to UNICEF, the UN's children's organization, more than 90 percent of all malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. Two thousand African children die daily from the disease.

Dr. Patrick Kaucher is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "In rural Africa, one out of every five children born doesn't survive until his fifth birthday."

Malaria is transmitted from person to person via mosquitoes that carry the parasite. Malaria rapidly destroys red blood cells, which deliver oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. The disease is preventable and treatable, but most of Africa does not have adequate resources to do either.

Insecticides have proven ineffective since mosquitoes breed very rapidly and develop resistance to them. Johns Hopkins microbiologist Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena says a better approach may lie in the mosquito. "If we could find a way to manipulate the mosquito, to make it a less hospitable host for the parasite, then we could interfere with parasite transmission and lessen the burden of the disease."

The Johns Hopkins Laboratory has introduced a gene into the mosquito that substantially inhibits the development of the parasite. But scientists are concerned that what works in the laboratory may not work in the wild.

Scientists are also working on developing a vaccine that would prevent malaria. Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates has donated 258 million dollars to fund research.

Funds for malaria research and development amount to a meager 0.3 percent of all medical expenditures worldwide. By contrast, diabetes receives six times more money for research and development even though its estimated cost to a society's productiveness is about one-third of that of malaria.