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Drug Resistant Malaria and Ebola Vie for Media Coverage and Research Attention


While most eyes of the world are focused on the recent West African Ebola epidemic, another well-known disease is on the verge of making a deadly comeback. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine describes the increasing resistance of the malaria parasite to the drug Artemisinin in Southeast Asia.  Artemisinin is currently the best weapon doctors have in their malaria arsenal and scientists fear that this resistant strain could make inroads into India and Africa. This is no small concern – malaria is believed to have killed approximately 627,000 and sickened 207 million people in 2012 – and it’s estimated that Artemisinin alone has saved the lives of millions since its introduction.

The convergence of medicine, media and human nature can lead policy makers, pundits and the public to focus on headline grabbing public health emergencies. Meanwhile, problems like malarial Artemisinin resistance that will likely have a far greater human and economic toll fly under the radar. This is not to say that there has been no coverage of the resistance study – it has been reported by multiple news sources including the Wall Street Journal – or that fears related to Ebola are misplaced. It is also interesting to note that the problem is not new – The Lancet published work in the same vein and WHO issued new Artemisinin treatment guidance in early 2013. It should also be noted that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and organizations like it provide generous grants funding research into malaria eradication.

The question remains, however, as to why a disease that would likely kill many millions if left unchecked gets far less press than one that is, for lack of a better term, a flash in the pan. The coverage of the Ebola crisis has undoubtedly been essential to motivating research around effective treatment and we seem to be gaining ground in this respect. But without the type of attention Ebola has gotten, how will diseases closer to home and abroad without the resources of billion dollar foundations behind them get the attention that motivates research to help many more?