photo credit: gyuvallos
Malaria is a serious and often-fatal disease caused by parasites transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Once someone is infected with malaria, the resulting disease can cause damage to the nervous system, kidney and liver. Severe cases can quickly lead to death. Though preventable, the burden of malaria is huge, with more than 250 million cases a year and more than one third of the world’s population at risk for the disease.
Malaria takes an enormous toll on the lives and well being of people in Sub-Saharan Africa – especially young children and pregnant women, who are most vulnerable to the disease. Malaria also impacts parts of Asia and Latin America, but most of the nearly one million malaria deaths that occur each year are among children in Africa under the age of five.
At the same time, the economic impact of malaria is staggering. The disease disproportionately afflicts low-income countries, where poverty exacerbates the conditions that promote the spread of the parasite. It is estimated that malaria results in the annual loss of US$12 billion per year of Gross Domestic Product in Africa.
Current methods to prevent the spread of malaria and treat its effects include the use of insecticides to kill mosquitoes, insecticide-treated nets to prevent human infection, and malaria drugs to stop the progression of the disease. A wide range of organizations – including NGOs, governments, researchers, companies and dedicated individuals – have worked to dramatically increased awareness of malaria and generated new funding dedicated to halting its spread.
While current approaches save lives, additional tools are needed to reduce the impact of the disease. These tools could potentially achieve an even greater goal: eradicating the disease entirely. They range from new medicines to a malaria vaccine, the latter of which would potentially be one of the most effective and cost-effective ways to prevent future illness and death. The leading malaria vaccine candidate is currently in advanced clinical trials.
The public health community has been fighting the battle against malaria in Africa for many years. A broad push to dramatically reduce deaths from malaria in Africa will require additional new efforts from the public and private sectors, increased political will, and new champions.