Sunday, April 08, 2012

Eureka School Graduates from the mid-1950s

From Roy Merritt.

Long, long ago, tiny Eureka boarding school operated here at Namwianga.

A few days ago, three of us got together again!
On the right is Yours Truly, the least educated person here.
In the middle, Dr. Anita Hobby Mitchell, still teaching and doing research at the medical school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
On the left is Dr. Phil Thuma, main doctor at Macha Mission hospital most of his life. Phil works with Johns Hopkins in malaria research, and has almost eradicated malaria in the area served by his institution.

Did you read that right? Yes!

Almost eradicated!

1. Mosquito nets don't prevent malaria because rural Africans live and eat outside. By the time they are ready to sleep, mosquitoes have already dined.
2. Sprays don't prevent malaria because mosquitoes become immune.
3. Prophyactics don't prevent malaria because the disease becomes immune to drugs.

So Phil does goes after malaria carriers. He tests everybody for malaria, sick or not, especially those living near quiet water pools. Then he treats everyone who tests positive, even if they show no symptoms. He has even developed a saliva test for malaria to overcome those who do not want their blood taken for religious or superstitious reasons.

Cynical scientific types told him his results were not reproduceable. So Phil went to work and proved them wrong. Two other campaigns in two different areas came up with similar results. Mosquitoes cannot transmit malaria if the people they bite do not have malaria parasites in their blood.

"Makes sense to me," I thought. "Maybe those fancy, highly paid scientists don't like being trumped by a humble missionary doctor out in the boonies."

Those scientists still were not convinced. "The problem is commitment", they said. "There are not enough people with your level of commitment to do the job on a national scale."

So "lack of commitment" blocks eradication of malaria in Africa, and prevents saving a million lives each year.

Phil is also attacking AIDS. More exciting research. As he spoke about his studies and results and plans I felt a tiny thrill of hope.

What he says is so obvious that it makes sense.

People cannot transmit a virus they do not have.

Phil advocates that we treat all HIV carriers, even if they are not sick. Present regulations forbid treatment of HIV positive people until their blood count drops to specific levels--until they are sick. "What other disease do we treat this way?" Phil asks. "Do we wait till a patient's lungs are half full of fluid before we treat pneumonia? Do we wait till gangrene has destroyed a man's toes before we go to work on his leg?"

Phil may have a key to end this plague.

His main problem?


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