Malaria: The preventable disease that kills thousands

Ahead of World Malaria Day, doctors urge governments to find solutions to prevent infection and death.

    Twenty African countries account for 90 percent of global malaria cases [AP]
    Twenty African countries account for 90 percent of global malaria cases [AP]

    Correction April 23, 2015: This article originally stated that Raïssa Maïga was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Maïga is from the Republic of Congo.

    As World Malaria Day approaches, the World Health Organization (WHO) is busy advocating for malaria control and elimination, particularly in the hardest hit continent of Africa.

    Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, transmitted through bites from infected mosquitos and is an endemic, plaguing more than 20 countries in Africa.

    "In 2013, 20 of the 22 countries accounting for 90 percent of the estimated global cases of malaria were from Africa," the WHO Africa's regional director Dr Matshidiso Moeti told Al Jazeera.

    World Malaria Day on April 25 was instituted by the World Health Assembly at its 60th session in May 2007 to recognise the global effort to provide effective malaria control.

    It endeavours to educate people in affected regions about the disease's spread, and for nations to learn from common experiences while providing research and international partnership to combat the disease.

    According to the WHO, 90 percent of the estimated 627,000 global malaria deaths occurred in Africa in 2012.

    Economic woes

    Malaria has a devastating socioeconomic impact on African countries causing poverty because of absenteeism from work and school, thereby rendering children unequipped for promising careers.

    Raïssa Maïga from the Republic of Congo, whose 11-month-old daughter contracted malaria, explained the economic woes of the disease.

    Baby Jenny Maïga with her mother Raïssa [WHO]

    "Malaria is affecting me because I'm currently at the hospital with my daughter when I need to be working in the market. I'm a shopkeeper and I can't sell anything, and I'm losing money as I need to stay here with her until she is well," Maïga told Al Jazeera.

    Maïga comes from the Bacongo district of Brazzaville in Congo and says her daughter contracted the disease from mosquito bites. She says she now hopes the government will provide free mosquito nets and a clean place to sleep.


    Dr Moeti, while acknowledging African governments are "doing their best given competing priorities", says a lot more can be done to prevent and eliminate malaria.

    "Governments can do more ... by increasing domestic investment in malaria control - the current average domestic investment in Africa is about $4 per person at risk. This needs to rise to at least $10 per person," she said.

    Every year, 3.2 billion people are at risk of contracting malaria. This leads to about 198 million malaria incidents and an estimated 584,000 deaths. Those living in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable to the disease.

    Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, and vomiting, and usually appear between 10 to 15 days after the mosquito bite. If timely treatment is not provided, it rapidly becomes life-threatening because it disrupts the blood supply to vital organs.

    The main interventions for controlling the spread of malaria include the prompt and effective treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies; use of insecticidal nets by people at risk; and indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control the vector mosquitoes.

    Global focus

    The Roll Back Malaria Partnership -  which comprises of more than 500 partners, including malaria endemic countries, non-governmental organisations, and research institutions - is also planning programmes to mark World Malaria Day.

    Children run with advertising banners highlighting the fight against malaria [Getty Images]

    The partnership will convene with UN ambassadors, EU parliamentarians, officials from the Islamic Development Bank and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and communities in the Elimination Eight (E8) countries, to commemorate World Malaria Day 2015, in New York, Brussels, Geneva, Jeddah, and Livingstone, Zambia.

    Their mission is to focus on the need for increased financing, tackling drug and insecticide resistance, increasing investment in elimination efforts, improving protection for pregnant women, and prioritising malaria prevention in a new era of development.

    Meanwhile, WHO is working on advocating malaria control and elimination throughout the world with a special focus on Africa.

    "The WHO regional office for Africa works through its 47 country offices to advance the malaria control and elimination agenda through supporting advocacy events like media briefing, publication of news briefs, statements and articles in newspapers and electronic media, and support to commemoration events at select centres within countries," Moeti told Al Jazeera in an email.

    However, ordinary people such as Maïga are looking for only simple solutions to this life threatening disease such as mosquito nets. Maïga says she believes she will see a malaria-free Congo in her lifetime.

    "Yes, I would really like to see that. I think it can be done if we all work together with nurses and doctors."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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