Malaria. Such a pretty word. Like a flower. But of course there is nothing pretty about this ruthless killer disease. So what’s the problem? Well, it's transport. There are wonderfully effective drugs and nets but they don't spontaneously fly through the air and deliver themselves.
In some places, there is almost no escape. Everybody has it. It may not always kill you, but it will always make you seriously ill. Violent headaches, nausea, dizziness and disorientation.
You can barely see, the can hardly stand and you most certainly will not be able to work. Imagine the effects on the family, with the children ill and the bread-winners effectively disabled. And in poor countries everyone is a bread-winner because bread is so hard-won.
And yet there is good news, not least from history. Malaria was once common in Europe and yet it has gone. It was common too in the US, particularly in the sub-tropical South. But they said goodbye to the last endemic case in Florida, in 1953.
There are relatively effective preventative drugs, and there are bed nets which are an successful solution if people are educated to use them properly and they are regularly replaced (as the medication they are pregnated with eventually wears away). Plus, the disease, spread by sucking-in and squirting-out infected blood is only transmitted only by female mosquitoes and once they have been eliminated – as in the US case – it is extremely difficult for any area to be re-infected.
So what’s the problem? Well, once again, it is transport. The drugs and tools are available, the problem is getting them to the people who need them in places so remote it might take days to walk to the nearest clinic.
The programmes we support train and provide reliable transport to motorcycling health workers who are able to reach villages and families whenever needed with both medical supplies and the and the education that must go alongside them.
Motorcycles are far more effective than any other transport in this fight. Because insecticide-impregnated bed nets are so light, a health worker on a bike can carry hundreds of them at a time. And because malaria prevention and treatment call for permanent follow-up, motorcycles are perfectly suited because of their versatility and cost-effectiveness.
As with any huge problem, there is no single answer. But one thing is clear enough: if the people cannot be reached, the plague will rage on. A pretty name, but a far from pretty picture.
Please support Two Wheels in every way you can. We can show that bikes can eliminate malaria worldwide.
Barry Coleman, co-founder of Riders for Health and advisor to Two Wheels for Life
Image above: Health worker on a Riders for Health motorcycle, who delivers bed nets to communities in rural Gambia.