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WILLS POINT, TX – GFA World (Gospel for Asia) founded by K.P. Yohannan, which inspired numerous charities like GFA World Canada, to assist the poor and deprived worldwide, issued a Special Report on how the alarming increase of mosquito-blamed cases in U.S. may awaken Westerners to the deadly scourge of malaria that still claims thousands of lives worldwide.
One of the ironies in the fight against malaria is that past victims are combating it, including people like Dr. Nana Minkah, a scientist at the Kappa Lab at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Growing up in the sub-Saharan nation of Ghana, he contracted the disease multiple times. Among his memories are bouts when he spent more than a week in bed with pain and chills so bad he visibly shivered.
In 2015, after earning a Ph.D. in molecular genetics and biology, Dr. Minkah joined the Kappa Lab. Even though he didn’t have experience in parasitology, he wanted to work on malaria, especially since it still plagues his homeland.
One of the ways the lab hopes to pioneer new methods of preventing malaria is with genetically engineered vaccines. In March of 2019, it successfully completed a vaccine with a first-generation strain of the most lethal parasite. Such vaccines rely on a basic principle: to give the immune system an advantage over a pathogen by teaching it to recognize the invader before the infection occurs.
“I wanted to do work that has clinical implications with the potential to save the lives of people who look like me,” Dr. Minkah said. “What we are trying to do is a tall order. We are trying to develop a product that will create unnatural immunity.”
Despite such inspiring stories, challenges still exist. For example, while malaria was eliminated in the U.S. in 1951, the country still has Anopheles mosquitoes that can bite an infected person and transmit to others.
During last summer’s EEE outbreak, health officials in five southwest Michigan counties warned of a “critical risk” of the virus in 35 communities, with another 40 at high risk. Dr. Brian Chow, a doctor of infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center, said 2019 seemed to be much more severe than in years past. “It is a concern,” Chow said.
Such situations point to the vigilance needed for the fight. A 2019 article in the Scientific American pointed out how, over time, drug treatment of the disease lose their effectiveness as parasites grow resistant to it. For example, in the 1990s, chloroquine was of first-line importance in Africa. By the early 2000s, that drug was replaced by sulfadoxine/primethamine and later ACTs (for Artemisinin Combination Therapy). Each time, resistance developed.
“While mutation in this gene has occurred in Southeast Asia and is spreading around the region, there are fears it will spread to Africa, like it did for the drugs before it,” wrote Ify Aniebo, a research scientist and fellow at Harvard’s school of public health. “The more drugs we use to treat malaria parasites, the more resistant they become due to selective pressure.”
Ironically, even as parasites adapt to resist technology, one of the most effective methods to combat malaria is rather old-fashioned: mosquito nets. A study of Africa released in the spring of 2019 found that the single-most important factor to a 15-year decline in malaria fatalities—from 840,000 deaths in 2000 to 440,000 in 2015—was increased distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets. The authors of the study estimate they were responsible for averting 451 million cases during that 15-year period.
This study highlights the importance of one group’s primary methods of fighting the disease in South Asia: distributing mosquito nets free of charge to vulnerable families. Workers supported by Gospel for Asia (GFA) distributed 360,000 nets in 2018.
“As Gospel for Asia (GFA) combats these mosquitoes and the deadly disease they carry, we’re seeking to minimize the risk of children being infected,” founder K.P. Yohannan says in a 2019 press release for World Malaria Day. “It’s part of our commitment to the remote communities and one way to express God’s love for them. Many villagers in remote areas can’t afford to buy mosquito nets or preventive medications. This is why our efforts are so critical.”
Distribution of nets is only one aspect of multi-faceted efforts by Gospel for Asia (GFA) in these areas. The ministry also supports workers who hold free health seminars, distribute vitamins and educate villagers about hygienic routines to reduce the potential for disease and infection.
Such efforts create heart-rending anecdotes, like that of Pastor Ronsher, who serves in an area with high transmission rates. There, impoverished farmers and daily wage laborers struggle to secure proper medical care and hygiene; among their numbers is a couple named Bahman and Salli, whose daughter had been paralyzed for three years. After Pastor Ronsher gave them a net, he visited them for several weeks to teach them how to use it and offer encouragement.
“You helped us by providing a piece of mosquito net in our lives, though you never knew us before,” Bahman said. “Many knew about our problems, but except [for] you, none of them showed their kindness toward us. We are touched with your love.”
Such love may be needed for those living in the U.S. as well. In addition to the increased rate of Eastern Equine Encephalitis cases last year, one malaria researcher at the University of Maryland’s medical school recently warned of limited access to an intravenously-administered drug. The IV treatments are needed for the more serious cases of mosquito-linked diseases in America.
“Severe malaria is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment with IV medication to reduce the risk of death,” says Dr. Mark Travassos, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist who cited a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showing 1,500 malaria cases in the U.S., of which 259 needed IV treatment.
Dr. Travassos says while oral treatments for malaria are available, in the U.S. these are often not effective in more serious cases: “Severe malaria patients can have brain involvement or repeated vomiting and may not tolerate oral medication, placing them at high risk for complications.”
As his University of Maryland associate, Professor Kathleen Neuzil, puts it, “Malaria is a leading killer worldwide, impacting millions of people each year. While we continue to work on developing vaccines and other treatments, it is critical that patients everywhere have access to the regimens needed to combat this disease.”
That means patients in places as poor as South Asia and as affluent as the U.S.
One simple way to fight mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, is to consider giving a needy family a simple Mosquito Net. For only $10, Gospel for Asia’s field partners can distribute one of these effective nets to an at-risk family in Asia and provide them with safety from insects during the day and at night.
Read the rest of Gospel for Asia’s Special Report on Mosquito-Driven Scourge Touches Even Developed Nations: Malaria Alone Claims 400,000 Lives Per Year — Part 1
This Special Report originally appeared on gfa.org.
Read another Special Report from Gospel for Asia on Fighting Malaria – A Chilling Disease: Mosquito Netting and Malaria Prevention Combat a Parasitic Genius.
Learn more by reading this special report from Gospel for Asia: It Takes Only One Mosquito – to lead to remarkable truths about faith-based organizations and world health.
Click here, to read more blogs on Patheos from Gospel for Asia.
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