Could we see a malaria-free world in our lifetimes? At this May's Martina Brandegee Lawrence '25 Forum, a distinguished panel of five experts, including two Winsor alumnae, explored why eradicating the disease has proven so difficult.
For all of today's advances in medicine, infectious diseases continue to pose a major threat to human health. This year's Martina Brandegee Lawrence '25 Forum panelists engaged the school community in thinking about one of the most daunting global health challenges: malaria.
Held May 3, 2018, in the Goel Theater, the evening also provided a preview of the kinds of issues that students will explore in Winsor's 2019 Global Forum, "Sick Days: Disease and Its Role in Human Society."
Cause for Optimism
The good news? Deaths from malaria are nearly half of what they were 15 years ago. The bad news: the decline has plateaued, said moderator Ashish K. Jha, M.D., M.P.H., in introducing the topic. Still, "I'm incredibly optimistic about the next 15 years."
"I agree there's cause for optimism," said Natasha S. Hochberg '92, M.D., M.P.H. Yet she sees challenges because of the scope of the problem—with millions affected—and the fact that is not just one disease in one setting. "It can't just be one approach fits all."
She helped to frame the discussion with an insight into how those trained in medicine and public health often look at problems. She recounted how public health students often hear the story of a team rescuing people from a rushing river, one after the other. Looking upstream, they'd find the root of the problem: a broken bridge. Public health looks upstream.
The metaphor resonated with fellow alumnae panelist Lindsey Tucker '97, M.P.H., who noted how all aspects of our health are largely shaped by factors "upstream."
"Malaria is really a disease of poverty," she reflected, echoing a point of panelist Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., M.A. While Lindsey's focus is more local as an assistant commissioner of the state's Department of Public Health, "so much of how we think about our work is relevant for this discussion," she said. She gave the audience a sense of how to look at malaria or any public health issue in the context of three "D's"—data, determinants, and disparities.
Dr. Bhadelia guided the audience in considering the issue from a "health systems perspective" and particularly looking at access to care. She also spoke to how global changes—including climate change and the shift of populations from rural to urban area—have added to challenges.
"Nobody should die of malaria," concluded panelist Caroline Buckee, Ph.D. "It's treatable. It's preventable." While she sees cause for hope, she admitted that she remains skeptical about eradication anytime soon. To explain the complexity, she traced the history of earlier eradication efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. Even so, "“philosophically, not to aim at eradication seems problematic, because then we’re just admitting defeat long term,” she said. The promise of new technologies and approaches on the horizon make her cautiously optimistic.
Martina Brandegee Lawrence's Legacy
This year's forum again honored the memory of Martina Brandegee Lawrence, Class of 1925, whose intellectual curiosity, determination and integrity are hallmarks of a quintessential Winsor woman.
For her family, the idea of a forum focused on disease proved particularly poignant. Martina's own plans to go on to study at Radcliffe abruptly changed when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease referenced at different points in the evening's discussion.
In Martina's case, she overcame years of severe illness to live life fully as a mother of four children, avid collector of books, and an advocate for excellence in education. For three generations, her family has carried on her Winsor legacy.
The Martina Lawrence Forum has continually inspired Winsor audiences, from forward-looking panels to speakers such as Gloria Steinem, Sherry Turkle, Randall Kennedy, and David Sanger. This year's event, with its ties to the Global Forum, added a wonderful new dimension to the tradition.
Special Thanks to our Expert Panelists
Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., M.A.
Caroline Buckee, Ph.D.
Natasha S. Hochberg '92, M.D., M.P.H.
Lindsey Tucker '97, M.P.H.
Ashish K. Jha, M.D., M.P.H., moderator