The State of Malaria in South-East AsiaAlthough Malaria remains at the forefront of global health issues, malaria in South-East Asia represents a success story in terms of mobilizing aid in the fight against the disease. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported eight million malaria cases, a decline of 69% since 2010, marking the largest decline of all WHO regions.

Direct Aid Strategies

South-East Asia has been the target of hefty aid strategies from a variety of non-profits. The aid primarily comes from the WHO and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria. As the Global Fund puts it, “The fight against malaria is one of the biggest public health successes of the 21st century.” The multi-pronged strategies used by these non-profits begin with a tactic known as surveillance.

Surveillance involves testing, record-keeping and reporting malaria cases. Surveillance systems have become more efficient. As a result, health care systems maintain a much more refined picture of malaria cases in any given region. This eventually gains “near real-time individual case data in small areas.”

Vector control is limiting contact between people and the mosquitos that transmit the disease. It has also helped eliminate malaria in South-East Asia. One of the most effective means to achieve this has been the wide-scale distribution of insecticidal mosquito nets. So far, the Global Fund has donated 142 million nets, providing a simple means for those in rural and urban areas alike to keep themselves protected.

Strengthening Local Healthcare Systems

Besides direct aid, many non-profits also turn to bolster already-existing local healthcare systems in the fight against malaria in South-East Asia.

Malaria Consortium is a non-profit organization specializing in the disease. It began working in Myanmar in 2016 to train locals in rural areas to administer essential health services. Malaria Consortium also taught local health workers to treat malaria, working to close the gap in rural healthcare.

In one village, 13 healthcare workers were trained in the treatment of malaria and other diseases common to the area. These workers went on to teach local mothers and adolescents, expanding the web of healthcare knowledge even further. By the end of the program, 90% of trainees were able to diagnose malaria cases correctly. Trainees were also able to run malaria diagnostic tests and administer Artemisinin. Artemisinin is the most widely used drug to treat the disease.

Concerns with Treating Malaria

Aid has been successful in treating malaria in South-East Asia. However, a new drug-resistant strain on the rise reignites concerns around the disease. Artemisinin-resistant malaria has the potential to undermine malaria prevention and was first recorded in the Mekong River region of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. In 2014 and 2015, studies conducted by Vietnam’s National Malaria Control Program found treatment failure rates ranging from 26% to 46%.

From the perspectives of non-profits and medical experts, the rise of this new Artemisinin-resistant malaria in South-East Asia means surveillance efforts must be bolstered to prevent global spread. Likewise, instead of merely treating already-present cases, the goal must be preventing transmission in the first place. According to Chris Plowe, the director of the Duke Global Health Institute, is using all the tools available to the institute to eliminate aggressive malaria in the Greater Mekong subregion.

Overall, direct aid, community mobilization and the bolstering of healthcare systems have transformed a region once fraught with malaria. As these efforts continue, malaria in South-East Asia moves closer toward its extinction.

Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr 

Effective Altruism 
From an idea and philosophy, Effective Altruism has evolved and transformed into a very broad and cohesive social movement over the years. Though heavily featured in the nonprofit sector, Effective Altruism focuses on scientific projects, policy-making and organizations with the ethos of finding effective ways to do ‘the most good’ and ‘do good better,’ both individually and collectively. Effective Altruism prioritizes a variety of different causes, impartiality and cost-effectiveness, along with assessing potential funding impacts and counterfactual reasoning.

Effective Altruism Singapore

The Borgen Project had an opportunity to get in touch with the Effective Altruism chapter in Singapore, an up and coming organization with a focus on ‘effective giving.’ As an organization, the chapter is able to sustain and appeal to people because of Singapore’s friendly and burgeoning nonprofit environment as well as its relatively wealthier population, and more stable incomes and economy.

With a heavy focus on research and careful analysis, the Effective Altruism Chapter in Singapore, in particular, is able to work on the best cases and understand specific communities in need. Like many of its companion chapters around the world, it also focuses on more neglected issues in global poverty reduction initiatives such as global health and development and factory-farmed animals as well as other problems and existential risks like natural disasters and climate change. Stunting, in particular, is a grave and predominant focus for Effective Altruism Singapore, with a heavy concentration on child and maternal health care malnutrition owing to the fact that nearly 25.8 percent of children in southeast Asia are stunted. Effective Altruism’s evidence-based research patterns and analysis shows that around 30 percent of children in communities across Indonesia and the Philippines experience adverse impacts of stunting.

The GiveWell Framework

Moreover, the chapter employs the more empirical and analytical GiveWell framework in its work to evaluate potentially high-impact giving opportunities in SouthEast Asia. GiveWell, one of the pioneering organizations behind the Effective Altruism movement, focuses on scouting reliable charities that can improve lives the most per dollar so that there is effective and impactful usage of philanthropic funds. The objective is chiefly to deduce how useful it is to give an amount equivalent to a dollar and evaluate how it could potentially impact a specific target community.

In accordance with Effective Altruism’s GiveWell framework, giving opportunities are largely dependent on an in-depth analysis involving thousands of hours of research which it then uses to find top-rated charities backed by evidence, thorough analysis and vetting to ensure transparency and accountability. GiveWell also tries to understand the root causes of issues such as stunting and malnutrition. Organizations such as the Malaria Foundation and Malaria Consortium remain some of GiveWell’s most important recommendations in the health care aspect of its many global poverty alleviation priorities.

The GiveWell Framework’s Role at Effective Altruism Singapore

Consequently, many of Effective Altruism Singapore’s pilot projects and initiatives employ the GiveWell framework as it is helpful while analyzing and understanding some of the high-impact giving opportunities in Southeast Asia, especially in key priority realms like the provision of WASH (Water, Hygiene and Sanitation) services as well as childhood malnutrition. In the year 2018, the chapter focused on looking for organizations and charities that delivered more evidence-based interventions that targeted preventable and cost-effective health issues and impacted some of the poorest populations and communities in Southeast Asia.

To conclude, the workings and functioning of Effective Altruism Singapore help paint a broad picture of the Effective Altruism philosophy and movement as a whole due to its rather abstract nature. It remains groundbreaking and innovative because it offers a more objective as well as a critical approach to addressing and combatting poverty in the long run especially because it aims to use more research and evidence focused methods.

As a whole, it remains an essential and significant reflection into the applications of the ideology and the potential impacts it can have on the way one perceives global poverty-related issues across various communities around the world.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Wikipedia Commons