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Zika vs Malaria – What’s All The Fuss?



Did you ever hear of Zika prior to this year? Doubtful. Yet this virus has been tracked since the 1950s. It causes a mild acute illness, and when pregnant women become infected it may be connected with serious congenital disorders. Zika has similarities with malaria: Both are infections transmitted via mosquito. Both occur in more tropical climates. But over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly African children under five years of age, and some 300-600 million people suffer from often serious malaria illness each year. What’s more, the risk of miscarriage among pregnant women with malaria increases five-fold.


By contrast, human death from Zika has yet to be confirmed, and the connection with congenital disorders is less than substantiated. So what’s all the fuss over Zika? For one, we news consumers are fixated on threats from infectious diseases. Remember our reactions to swine flu, SARS, bird flu, Ebola? Now in all fairness, it is possible that these infections could possibly become global and pandemic in proportion. But in the meantime, we in the United States are essentially allowing media hype to set public policy: Our president, congress, and health agencies are suddenly pressing massive resources, $1.3 billion, against the Zika’s potential for dissemination, while US government funding for malaria intervention remains flat at $600 million.


What does this say about our rationale and priorities? What will we say to the families of the 3,000 people who died today from malaria? What will be our words to the infected mothers whose babies were lost in pregnancy? And to those tens of thousands, who at this moment are vomiting and convulsing from malaria, what will be our explanation over not devoting at least parallel resources to their needs?


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