SEATTLE — April 25, 2017, marked World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) program aimed at eradicating malaria. Malaria is a parasitic disease that is transmitted to humans through mosquitos. It is persistent in all six populated continents. Although, people who are impoverished are more often afflicted with the disease because their countries tend to have fewer healthcare resources and more civil unrest.
World Malaria Day began in 2007 as a means to bring attention to the epidemic and work towards ending it. The goal is to raise awareness for more funding and research and increase political commitment and partnership towards prevention and control. This year’s theme is “Malaria prevention works. Let’s close the gap.”
Much progress has been made against malaria in only 10 years. Fifty percent fewer people are dying from the infection (54 percent in sub-Saharan Africa). This was made possible by extensive funding for mosquito nets, anti-malaria medicine and aerial insecticide spraying. While the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative invested a little more than $3 billion between 2005 and 2013, anti-malaria campaigns saved Africa $900 million in healthcare expenditures between 2001 and 2014. To put this price tag in perspective, the U.S. gross domestic product was $16.7 trillion in 2013.
The WHO Region of Africa is the most affected area in the world. This is in part because of its climate. While progress has been made in many African countries, 35 percent of all malaria deaths occur in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. The disease still primarily affects children as well.
There are two concerns over the global malaria efforts. Many organizations such as private companies, governments, schools and nonprofits have come together with the United Nations Development Program, the WHO and UNICEF to fund the fight against malaria. Yet the concerns are about how the support is being used and whether the disease is becoming resistant to therapies.
Bed nets can be remarkably easy and inexpensive in preventing malaria, however, the New York Times has reported instances of their improper use. Furthermore, the malaria parasites appear to be developing resistance to artemisinin, the primary medication used in treatment. If these resistant parasites develop in Africa, it could be detrimental to the gains made thus far.
On World Malaria Day it is good to remember that the disease is no longer the number one killer of African children under five, rapid malaria tests are readily available in remote villages and many women are being offered preventative medication free of charge. Although, there is still work to do. If there is no increase in funding, malaria rates could likely rise due to resistance. The WHO is trying to reduce malaria deaths and cases by 90 percent, completely eradicate the disease in 35 countries and prevent its return by 2030. The WHO assures this vision is possible.
— Mary Katherine Crowley