A life-threatening disease estimated to have afflicted 219 million people and killed 660,000 in 2010 alone, malaria is one of the most prevalent global health problems facing the world today. The disease is caused by parasites transmitted through bites from infected mosquitos, and can be transmitted through person-to-person contact. It produces acute flu-like symptoms and a tell-tale fever lasting several days. If not treated within 24 hours, the infection can become serious, and in some cases, fatal. As of 2012, ninety-nine countries are experiencing what the World Health Organization terms “ongoing malarial transmission,” and most of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Five countries are in the “prevention of reintroduction” of malaria phase.
The World Health Organization reports that most of those who contract malaria are African children who live in malaria-affected areas and have not yet developed immunity to the disease. Pregnant women, people with HIV, and travelers from countries where the disease is not endemic, are also at risk for infection. Ninety percent of all malaria deaths in 2010 occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa among children under age 5. The WHO estimates that a child dies from malaria every 60 seconds.
While there is still bad news about one of the world’s most well-known infectious diseases, there is good news to report as well. Although there is no vaccine for against it, malaria is both preventable and curable. Risk of infection can be reduced significantly through targeted spraying of insecticides inside houses and buildings. This is a form of what scientists call “vector control,” a means of preventing infected mosquitos from coming into contact with humans. Similarly, the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), especially in sleeping quarters, can prevent transmission and save thousands of lives.
In more good news, Rapid-Diagnosis Tests (RDTs) are making it easier for doctors to identify the illness and treat victims earlier. Early treatment means both a greater chance of survival and a greater reduction in transmission. Treatment for malaria typically takes the form of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), which are the most effective malaria treatments currently available. In recent years these treatments have become less expensive: a course of treatment for one child costs one $1 US and has been shown to cure the illness within 3 days. In 2008 there were reports of artemisinin-resistant parasites along the Thailand-Cambodia border, but to date, ACTs remain the most potent medicines available to combat the disease
If there is to be more good news in the fight for total eradication of malaria, funding will continue to be critical. Money to purchase adequate supplies insecticides, nets, and treatment drugs comes from a number of sources. In addition to governments and government organizations, nonprofit groups like Malaria No More and the International Medical Corps help raise donations through their websites and campaigns. The US Global Health Budget, part of the country’s foreign aid allotment, also contributes to this effort. Since 2005, the President’s Malaria Initiative has contributed $1.2 billion dollars to malaria reduction efforts.
The most important bit of good news about malaria is that lives are being saved. Mortality rates for malaria have decreased by 25% globally since 2005, and by 33% in Africa alone. A number of countries are on track to reduce malaria by 75% by the year 2015. A recently-released report by the United Nations General Assembly estimates that since 2003 when a more aggressive international awareness and prevention campaign against malaria began in earnest, “a steep rise in international funding” for malaria treatment resulted in a significant expansion of programs, and ultimately saved 1.1 million lives.
– Délice Williams
Source: WHO,MalariaNoMore,NIH,American Enterprise Institute
Photo: God’s Word In Action