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Source.

Actor George Clooney is recognized for more than his roles in television and film. He has worked diligently to support human rights issues in regions in crisis such as the Sudan. In The New York Times blog “On the Ground,” reporter Nicholas Kristof joins Mr. Clooney to address readers’ questions about malaria.

What role do you think celebrities should play in communicating about science and medicine to the public?

While Mr. Clooney cannot offer the perspective of a researcher on malaria, or that of a scientist or physician, he can give a personal view since he contracted the illness while on a recent trip in the Sudan.

Do you believe that such a perspective is valuable for communicating important facts about public health issues, or could it overshadow opinions from experts? Could it lead to public misunderstanding? Is George Clooney exceptional compared to his peers in Hollywood with regards to communicating about these issues?

Below is a sample of some of the Q&A. You can read the full blog post here.

Overall, I believe that both Mr. Kristof and Mr. Clooney addressed the questions well and I was glad to see that they referred to Prof. Peter Agre from The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, a Nobel Prize winner, for a perspective.

Q.

Was Mr. Clooney taking any medications for malaria prophylaxis? And if so, how faithfully was he taking them? I hope he visited a travel medicine specialist prior to his trip!
– Mo

A.
I don’t know about George, but I wasn’t taking malaria pills when I caught malaria in Congo in 1997. I learned my lesson and now usually take Larium when going to a malarial place in Africa. But some people don’t react well to Larium, and so I sometimes steer others toward Malarone. About five Americans die a year from malaria, usually after travel to the developing world, so it’s worth taking it seriously — and seeking treatment immediately if you develop the symptoms after such a trip.
– Nicholas Kristof

Q.
George – A dear friend of mine had malaria…does it recur? And if you’ve had it once, can you get it again?
– BrazenMuse

A.
It can…it depends on what type you get..i didn’t get that strain thankfully.
– George Clooney

Q.
George – How did your treatment for malaria differ from the treatment that the average Sudanese would receive?
– Joy F.

A.
I had drugs to take before during and after…pills that should be just provided to these people, like a polio vaccine..life saving drugs for diseases that kill millions needlessly, belong to mankind not to companies to profit from….we need another Jonas Salk.
– George Clooney

A.
The average Sudanese in rural areas might not receive any treatment for malaria at all. In rural Africa, any fever is regarded as malaria, and people just suffer and usually recover; there seems to be a certain amount of resistance that builds up among healthy adults. So many people suffer malaria many, many times. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to dying from it, while healthy adults normally survive, although it can be lethal for them as well.
– Nicholas Kristof

Q.
We have plenty of mosquitos here in Minnesota, and in other parts of the U.S. for that matter. Why do people here generally not get malaria?
– J

A.
American mosquitoes don’t normally carry malaria today. Only one kind of mosquito — the anopheles — carries malaria, and it is not much found in the U.S. today and when it does exist it doesn’t carry the parasite. Mosquitoes merely carry malaria from one infected person to another person, so if there isn’t a pool of infected people around then mosquitoes won’t carry it either. That’s one reason why prevention efforts work: by reducing the number of cases, they reduce the pool of malaria that mosquitoes carry.
– Nicholas Kristof

Q.
How helpful are those mosquito net programs?– Jeremy Kareken

A.
They are extremely effective…they save countless lives.
– George Clooney

A.
Bed net programs seem very effective, especially when the nets are treated with insecticide. The problem tends to be getting the nets to rural areas, and then getting people to use them. The kind of mosquito that carries malaria is normally active only in the evening, when people are in bed, and that’s why the nets work so well. But ideally the nets are accompanied by vigorous treatment of suspected cases and also indoor spraying with small amounts of an insecticide like DDT: that keeps the mosquitoes out. That combination seems to work very, very effectively, but even net programs alone have resulted in plummeting rates of malaria in some countries recently. One of the saddest things I’ve seen was a family in Cambodia years ago. The mother had died of malaria, and the grandmother was looking after four children. She had one bed net that could cover three of them — and so every night she had to choose which child to leave out.

I should also add that there’s a lot we don’t know. Peter Agre of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tells me that a combination of insecticide treated nets and aggressive treatment using effective medicines has reduced malaria deaths more than 90 percent in parts of southern Zambia. But a similar approach in northern Zambia seems to have been much less effective. Agre’s team is now trying to sort out why. There are also high tech solutions being studied, from malaria vaccines to efforts to tinker with the fertility of the mosquitoes that carry malaria, but no breakthroughs seem imminent.
– Nicholas Kristof

Q.
Given the following:
1. DDT is extremely effective at killing mosquitoes
2. Malaria kills 850,000 people a year
3. DDT has never killed a single human being
How can we justify encouraging the slaughter of nearly a million humans every year when DDT will reduce that to under 100,000?
– karlostj

A.
DDT should definitely be part of the solution, and almost everyone in the public health world — including those with strong environmental concerns — agrees with that. These days the idea is not to use massive amounts of DDT trying to wipe out every insect, but to use tiny amounts with what is called indoor residual spraying. This keeps mosquitoes out of houses and seems to reduce malaria rates significantly.
– Nicholas Kristof

Comments

  1. #1 Ursula
    February 9, 2011

    I think the real value of having celebs doing this kind of communication is in getting people to care at all.

    Stories like this just plain don’t get the kind of coverage they do when you’ve got Clooney on the face of them – and they get people who normally couldn’t care less about malaria in Africa to read something about Malaria, and hope against hope, they may actually go and spend some more time on their own to look at it once the cause is brought to their attention.

    I think, so long as the celeb in question has their facts straight, and are not promoting pseudo science and lies, then this is always going to be generally positive.