Nepal | July 04, 2020

That odious bugle


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The perilous coronavirus tempest has robbed ‘the tiny, high-pitched, hateful bugle’ in your ear of its headline status. Malaria kills over a million every year. Well, if it is cascading certain parts of the globe, it simply suggests one thing. That we’ve not learnt from history — most notably, the malevolent insect’s explosive biology. Just one mosquito bite, for instance, injects up to 500 malarial sporozoites, with each yielding over 30,000 awfully dangerous progeny.

A persistent ‘curse,’ malaria occurred in the lowlands of ancient Egypt, the evidence being enlarged spleen of certain mummies. In ancient Greece malaria often appeared as autumnal fever — on an annual keel. It’s 80 years ago that a specific treatment for malaria became available in Europe — when the bark of the cinchona tree – whose medicinal ingredient, cinchona, is the present-day bitter alkaloid quinine – was introduced into Spain from Peru. Yet, the fact remains that unlike other infectious illnesses, malaria prompts the human body to develop immunity against the invading scourge far too slowly.

That malaria has always been the target of intense international efforts is no breaking news. Well, this has been merely a pyrrhic victory for us, because research has a long way to go yet in deciphering malaria’s beguiling nitty-gritty. This is precisely the ‘fuzzy’ thing about the malady too. Picture this. It is not known why some people, living in malarial areas, for instance, become violently ill, while others develop immunity to the illness. Medical researchers too are divided on the fundamentals — while one school of thought is keyed to expanding research on vaccines and potential new drugs, another ‘demystifies’ the certitude that there’s not much emphasis on prevention and control.

The consensus is — any preventative measure, if it is to work, should be aimed at interrupting the life-cycle of the parasite, especially at the egg-laying stage. To cull an exemplar: a novel, bio-engineering ‘application’ that employs fish, like guppy, to devour the mosquito larvae, has paid dividends in several mosquito density, or malarial, areas.

The war, of course, is far from over, albeit as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche echoed, “You must have chaos in you to give birth to a dancing star.” This, in medicine’s context, connects to finding better preventative and curative options against our age-old foe — the malarial parasite.

A version of this article appears in print on March 17, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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