Bearing Witness

by Billy Shore

Countdown to World Malaria Day: “Mission Accomplished”? (Why I cringe at the words)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

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          On April 1 the New York Times reported that “A few nonprofit groups have recently announced plans to wind down, not over financial problems but because their missions are nearly finished. Most notable, perhaps, is Malaria No More, a popular nonprofit that supplies bed nets in malaria zones. Its goal is to end deaths from malaria, a target it sees fast approaching.”
The article was published under the headline “Mission Accomplished” which for me immediately evoked unfortunate associations with President George W. Bush’s now infamously premature press conference on an aircraft carrier announcing the end of major combat operations in Iraq.  I wonder how whether the intent of the headline writers was that mischievous.
Indeed on the same day Scientific American ran this bold headline: “Malaria on the Rise as East African Climate Heats Up: In East Africa, warming as a result of climate change is paving the way for the spread of malaria.”
Malaria No More is a first-rate organization that has helped to both showcase and inspire incredible progress in reducing malaria deaths in Africa.   But both science and history offer compelling evidence that we need to steel ourselves for a longer fight to succeed in eradicating malaria’s deadly toll.
The organization’s vice chairman Scott Case is quoted as saying: “We never planned to be around forever. We have thought of this more as a project than as an institution-building exercise, and the project is nearing its completion.”  But one might argue that against a foe as formidable as the malaria parasite, long-term institution building is exactly what is needed most.
            One of the lessons I took away from researching THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN , http://ow.ly/4s3w3 ,  was to aim high, but to bring as cold-eyed and realistic assessment as possible to the talk of battling malaria.   As we approach World Malaria Day a debate about how to strike the right balance could be of great value.