For some unknown reason, I received an inquiry about an article about malaria in Malaysia. Having an interest, I searched and responded anyway, and in the process, came across this:
"In the bad old days, a biologist could walk into a steamy jungle and walk out a hero. Those were swashbuckling days when a swish of the hand through the air could catch a few nasty mosquitoes.
The era when a portable lab - unpacked with all the formality of a picnic basket - could percolate enough parasites for the scientist to make a life-altering discovery about malaria, write a paper for an honourable journal and save lives, many lives. No genetics, no molecular science. No primers, no reagents, no polymerase chain reaction. No DNA. No million- dollar lab. Just man, mosquito, malaria, microscope and a morality play like no other history.
"Over one million people die of malaria every year; three million people get infected. These are magical statistics, he says, and they are the reason malaria still gets big time research funding.
"But the tragedy is that no one should have died from malaria," says Desowitz. "For 300 years, there has been therapy for malaria. Certainly, no child or vulnerable woman needs to die from malaria now."
Starting with quinine and its many affordable variants, the superdrugs and cocktail drugs have arrived. Along the way, there were innovations like insecticide-treated bednets which although simple, are highly effective and cheap.
"It's outrageous that a six-tablet course to treat malaria is sold at US$50 (RM190) when the whole world knows that it cost 90 cents to produce," says Desowitz.
"It's also outrageous when economists say that 90 cents is a lot of money for the average African. It's even more outrageous when you find out that in some parts of the world, the food or milk needed to digest that medicine may cost more than 90 cents."
If you took a Malthusian view of the world, says Desowitz, then malaria is the perfect disease to stabilise populations. That theory holds that war and disease are needed to cull human communities and bring them down to manageable size.
"Much of the explanation is sitting on the bottom line," says Desowitz. "Patents and intellectual property claims are making medicines so expensive that the world's poor, who need it most, won't get them. Every potential malaria vaccine molecule has been patented."
Although, we've been promised a malaria vaccine every decade, every single project has failed. The patenting of vaccine molecules despite their failure is for just in case they can be used in the future, perhaps for something else."