Hopkins declares new war on malaria

$100 million gift: Institute at university will research disease that keeps tropical world sick and poor.

May 08, 2001

ONE OF THE MOST ambitious efforts at public health ever is the gift of $100 million to the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in hopes of ridding the world of malaria.

Some 6 to 9 percent of the world's population, 300 to 500 million people, catch malaria every year. Some 2.7 million die from it, yearly. Survivors may be in pain and incapacitated. The numbers are growing.

Malaria is a tropical disease. Nine-tenths of reported cases are in Africa. Up to 2,000 cases are reported a year in the United States, with as many more unreported. Global warming threatens to spread the disease.

Malaria is caused by four species of Plasmodium, protozoans, carried from human to human by mosquitoes. It is fought by drugs in sick people and by mosquito eradication. Protozoans and mosquitoes are increasingly resistant to chemicals used against them.

The holy grail of research is a vaccine to prevent the disease. But vaccines have not worked against protozoans as well as against bacteria and viruses.

The program, announced for the Johns Hopkins Malaria Institute, will bring together under one roof researchers in such diverse fields as immunology, molecular parasitology, genetic data, protozoan and mosquito biology.

Victory is not assured. If the program can make major progress, the effort would do more than any economic program to revive living standards of Africa and to prevent deterioration in South Asia and South America. That is how devastating this disease is to whole societies.

The anonymous pledge of $100 million -- to be spent in 10 years and not live on as endowment -- is one of the most generous for a single purpose. Its ambition is to lift continental populations into better health and, thereby, change the course of human history.

The selection of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University as the host institution is recognition of the outstanding medical science there. It enhances the eminence of Johns Hopkins among universities and of Baltimore as a center both of health research and of nongovernment aid to the developing world.

Successes by the scientists to be employed in East Baltimore would make this anonymous donor -- whatever else may be true of him, her or them -- one of the great benefactors of humanity.

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