In Pictures: Malaria in the Asia-Pacific

Malaria in the Asia-Pacific is virtually invisible. Our Malaria photography project aims to bring visibility to the people and their malaria burden through our photographs of them and their environment.

Photography is a universal language that transcends cultural and language boundaries. An image showing a patient suffering from malaria, properly composed, speaks directly to every viewer as a human being – “this disease is misery.”

The aim of our collection of medical photographs is to document the world and journey of those suffering malaria; bridging the patients, their immediate families, community care providers, and their place at the periphery of the modern world. My camera aimed to capture their suffering, their isolation, their invisibility to the rest of us, and their humanity. We hope to capture and communicate the human face of the Asia-Pacific malaria problem to audiences unfamiliar with it.

The aim is to create a display of human suffering caused by malaria, and the relief provided by healthcare. These visual presentations are critical in expressing and communicating to very broad audiences the journey of the people suffering from malaria in this region. Our aim is to humanise malaria to people unfamiliar with it and to elevate awareness of this serious Asia-Pacific health problem.

This project is a collaboration between Singapore-based photographer, Pearl Gan and the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam; Eijkman Oxford Clinical Research Unit, Jakarta and The Wellcome Trust.

"With regard to the request for statistics showing numbers of people ill or dead due to malaria, there are none that are reliable or sufficiently robust to post. The WHO numbers are weak at best and can only be used to examine trends over time. They freely and rightfully acknowledge this. Although their estimates in any given year appear highly precise, they are not because they cannot be. The data that informs those is too imprecise. Weak surveillance systems account for this fact. We know in India, for example, 86% of deaths occurred beyond the reach of health systems, i.e., in isolated rural areas people just bury their dead. There is no diagnosis or reporting. The same is true all across tropical Asia Pacific.

The main point of our project is that malaria in the remote rural and impoverished tropics of Asia Pacific is invisible. We cannot produce numbers for what we cannot see. That is as plainly as I can put it."

Professor Kevin Baird, Clinical Epidemiology, University of Oxford

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All images copyright to Pearl Gan in association with Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam, Eijkman Oxford Clinical Research Unit, Jakarta and The Wellcome Trust.

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