Dr. Bart Knols has been called the
“rock star of malaria,” a title he chuckles at. But once the Dutch-born expert
in insects gets going on the subject of malaria, his eyes light up and he can’t
“I’m a medical entymologist – that means I’m passionate
about doing something about insects that make you sick,” he told The Media Line.
“Malaria is a disease that is still affecting some 300 million people around the
Knols said that an estimated 655,000 people die each year
from malaria – mostly pregnant women and children in sub-Saharan Africa who have
a compromised immune system. Knols was in Israel in December for a conference
organized by Jerusalem’s Hebrew University School of Public Health.
Knols, the fight against malaria is personal. He contracted the disease nine
times during the eleven years during which he lived in Africa, mostly in Kenya
and Tanzania. His wife almost died of malaria.
“A child dying of malaria
today is a needless death – we have drugs and prevention tools that work,” he
said. “It is a sad story that as a global community we can’t get those drugs to
everyone. The only way to go is to try elimination of the disease
Malaria was completely eliminated in Israel in the 1940s,
thanks to Dr. Israel Kliger, a Russian-born, American-trained infectious disease
specialist who put together an integrated program in the 1920s and ‘30s. He
drained marshes, including the Hula swamp, which today is a prime bird-migration
site, and sprayed areas that were infested with mosquito larvae.
also conducted an educational program to teach parents how to protect their
children against malaria, and to obtain treatment as soon as it was
It is this same integrated approach that Knols, who also chairs
the advisory board of the Dutch Malaria Foundation, favors.
Israel malaria was rampant at the beginning of the last century -- people were
dying like flies,” Knols said. “People in Israel have forgotten this, but the
malaria situation was as intense --or more intense -- than in many parts of
Malaria is spread when a mosquito bites someone who is
infected with the parasite of malaria, the disease incubates in the mosquito for
10 to 14 days, and then the parasite is transferred to the next host when the
mosquito bites someone else. The most common way to fight malaria today is with
bed nets treated with insecticide, or by spraying insecticide on
Over time, though, mosquitoes have become resistant to many of
the insecticides. Some researchers are trying to find the mosquitoes carrying
the disease and get them before they hatch.
“I am working on new ways to
control malaria mosquitoes,” Dr. Silas Majambere, an African researcher from
Burundi who is working in Zanzibar told The Media Line. “I’m trying to control
mosquitoes at the source, when they are still in the water stage before they fly
out and bite people.”
The hardest part, he says, is finding where the
mosquito larvae congregate.
“I’m trying to get adult mosquitoes to pick
up the larvae themselves and take it with them to the water when they go to lay
their eggs,” he said. “In that way, you don’t have to know where the water
bodies are – the mosquitoes know better than we do.”
Another option to
eliminate malaria is through a vaccine, and millions of dollars have been spent
trying to create one. Bart Knols said a vaccine will likely be commercially
available within the next two years, but it will only be thirty-percent
effective in any case.
Conference organizer Dr. Maureen Malownay of
Hebrew University said the forum aimed to take Israel’s experience from the past
and use it in the future. “We are trying to design a program for malaria
elimination in areas that are almost there but not quite because that last bit
is the hardest part,” she told The Media Line. “Kliger realized that until
malaria was conquered in mandate Palestine there could not be settlement in all
of those areas. What we learn from him is that to be successful takes
determination and drive and an almost militaristic strategy to eliminate the
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