5 Things You Should Know About Malaria
Despite great progress in the fight against malaria, billions of people around the world are still at risk of this deadly disease. Here's what you need to know.
Nearly half the world’s population is at risk of falling ill with malaria, a life-threatening disease transmitted to humans by female Anopheles mosquitoes. The mosquitoes infect the liver, and subsequently red blood cells, with parasites that fly under the radar of our immune systems. Malaria causes fever, headache, vomiting, and chills, and if not treated promptly and adequately, it can lead to severe illness and often death.
In 2019, an estimated 229 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide, 94% of which were in Africa. More than 400,000 people died from Malaria in 2019, two-thirds of which were children under 5.
Malaria has been eradicated in most developed countries, but it remains one of the most severe public health problems worldwide — in fact, it is a leading cause of death and disease in many developing countries.
Here are five things to know about this deadly disease — and what we can do to prevent it.
1) Malaria is most prevalent in sub-Saharan African countries.
In 2019, 94% of reported cases of malaria were reported in Africa.
Countries in Africa carry a disproportionately high share of the global burden of malaria. In 2019, half of all malaria deaths worldwide came from six countries: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, and Niger.
Approximately 70% of malaria deaths occur in young children — and children under 5 are at particular risk. In 2019, approximately 274,000 children around the world did not see their fifth birthday because of malaria.
Malaria transmission is most common in warmer climates close to the equator where mosquitoes thrive in densely populated areas. A longer lifespan allows the malaria parasite inside the mosquito to develop into a form that is dangerous to humans.
2) Malaria is preventable and curable.
Global mortality rates caused by malaria have decreased by 29% since 2010.
There has been remarkable progress toward developing and distributing a malaria vaccine. In the first two years of a malaria vaccine pilot, more than 650,000 children have been vaccinated across Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi.
In the meantime, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor residual spraying significantly reduce the risk of malaria. In 2017, half of the people in at-risk areas slept protected by a net, compared to approximately 29% in 2010. Other protection measures include the use of topical insect repellants and insecticide-treated clothing. The World Health Organization has developed a set of 20 global guidelines for effective malaria vector control so technical experts, policymakers, and researchers can design efficient strategies.
Fortunately, if treated in a timely and adequate manner, most malaria patients make a complete recovery. What malaria treatment looks like depends on a variety of factors, including the specific type of parasite and severity of the disease. Pregnant women, infants, young children, people living with HIV, and people co-infected with tuberculosis are considered special risk patients that may require specialized treatment — a challenge compounded by the reality that half the world’s population does not have access to essential health services.
3) The risk of malaria significantly increases in times of disaster.
Vector-borne diseases, including malaria, are more likely to spread after disasters — including humanitarian emergencies that displace large numbers of people. Malaria is a particular concern after natural disasters like cyclones and hurricanes that cause flooding. Standing water can create optimal conditions for mosquito breeding sites, since Anopheles mosquitos lay their eggs in water.
In 2018, Project HOPE responded to the critical medical needs in Palu, Indonesia after a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed the lives of thousands of women, children, and men. As part of our response, we partnered with UNICEF to launch a program providing bed nets to displaced Indonesian families in Central Sulawesi. Through March 2019, we distributed more than 101,000 bed nets to tsunami survivors.
4) Malaria isn’t just a health issue in Africa.
Malaria cases in Latin America reached record highs of 1 million in 2017 and 2018, with 53% of cases coming from Venezuela. With more than 1 million Venezuelans now having fled to Colombia, a potential upsurge in cases now lurks there. Our team in Colombia has reported seeing an upsurge of malaria cases since many people are sleeping outside with no nets or blankets.
5) Progress is being made, but we must act now.
In 2019, an estimated 409,000 people died from malaria globally — that’s 198,000 fewer deaths than in 2010.
Incidence rates of malaria were steadily declining over the past years — from 72 cases per 1,000 people at risk in 2010, to 59 cases more recently. But for the past three years, progress appears to be stalled, and in some regions malaria is even on the rise. Apart from the fact that malaria-causing mosquitos cannot be contained or easily eradicated, malaria is particularly difficult to combat because interventions depend heavily on political commitment, financial resources, and public health infrastructures.
The World Health Organization has set ambitious goals to eradicate malaria, including reducing the number of malaria cases and mortality rate by 90% by 2030. The WHO is calling for an urgent global response through the “High burden to high impact” program, led by countries most significantly affected by the disease.
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