OFFICES IN Washington D.C. & New Delhi

Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy

Melinda Gates at the 2011 Malaria Forum: We are not eternally doomed like Sisyphus

Melinda Gates at the 2011 Malaria Forum: We are not eternally doomed like Sisyphus

Citing work by CDDEP Associate Director for Research and Senior Fellow David L. Smith, Melinda Gates, in her address to the 2011 Malaria Forum, talked about the ups and downs of the malaria eradication effort, and about her hopes for staying power in making progress against the global disease.  Noting the recent climb in malaria rates in Zambia:

The resurgence in Zambia is especially scary because it is so typical. In June, the researcher David Smith and his collaborators wrote a piece for Science about Zanzibar s up-and-down history with malaria. They included a graph of the malaria burden in Zanzibar, and it oscillated like a sine wave. They headlined the article, Solving the Sisyphean Problem of Malaria in Zanzibar.

Now, Margaret Chan is not the only reader of Homer out there. Our son Rory also loves Greek mythology, so when I think about the history of malaria, the image of Sisyphus pushing a heavy boulder up a mountain pops into my head, too.

The lesson is clear: the boulder of malaria control can come crashing down if we lose focus.

And it s not just Zanzibar. You see this pattern over and over again, all around the world. Here s a picture of Bhutan. Looks the same. Here s a picture of Paraguay. Looks the same. Mexico. The same.

The good news in these three countries is that they got back on track, levels are currently low, and they are included among the group of 32 countries currently planning to eliminate malaria.

Still, the challenges the malaria community faces are enormous. How do we not only maintain but increase funding in the worst financial crisis in six decades? How do we help countries scale up even when they don t seem to have the will to do so? Once we ve gotten malaria levels down, how do we keep them down?

The Sysiphean sine curve graph Ms. Gates refers to is this one, produced by David Smith and coauthors for their article in Science (also available in the Tools section of our website):

And the answer to sustaining the progress we’ve made and breaking the sine curve, according to Ms. Gates, is leadership.  She concludes:

[W]e are not stuck in a Greek myth. We are not eternally doomed like Sisyphus. We control our own destiny. We learn from our past. We have ambition and courage and passion. We will push the boulder, and push it, until it crests the mountain and rolls down the other side until every child is safe.

Read the full text of the speech on the Gates Foundation website.

Image credit: iStock