Facts About Malaria
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria is a threat to the health of approximately half of the world’s population. In 2017, malaria infection struck 216 million people and, of those infected, approximately 415,000 died. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be most impacted by the pandemic with over 90% of the documented cases and 92% of the deaths.
Malaria is transmitted by insect hosts. The direct cause of the disease are five species of the Plasmodium parasites, the most common of which is the is Plasmodium falciparum. The bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes spread these parasites. Symptoms of malaria include fever, shaking, and sweats. In more severe cases, malaria infection may also produce diarrhea, vomiting, and headache.
A serious potential complication of malaria is cerebral malaria. Cerebral malaria is the most severe neurological complication of infection with Plasmodium falciparum. With over 575,000 cases annually, children in sub-Saharan Africa are most vulnerable to cerebral malaria. Patients who survive cerebral malaria have an increased risk of neurological and cognitive deficiencies, behavioral difficulties and epilepsy. Cerebral is a leading cause of childhood neurological impairment in sub-Saharan Africa. The mechanism by which malaria infection results in brain injury is poorly understood. Understanding these mechanisms is critical in developing effective protective interventions.
The group most vulnerable to malaria infection are children under the age of five. This age group accounts for over 70% of the deaths due to malaria (303,000 deaths in 2015) in Africa. Considerable progress is being made in reducing mortality from malaria in this group with a 35% reduction in deaths from malaria in children under five years of age since 2010 and a 29% reduction in deaths across all age groups during the same period.
Another group with increased risk from malaria are pregnant women. Pregnant women who contract malaria have a substantially higher risk of dying from the acute complications of severe malaria. Furthermore, pregnant women infected with malaria have more spontaneous abortions, premature deliveries, stillbirths, and maternal anemia.
The key to success in reducing mortality associated with malaria has come from the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. Additionally, the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of malaria reduce the transmission and rate of infection associated with the disease.
Challenges to the active control and eradication of malaria remain. One of the major concerns facing those delivering care to people infected with malaria is the emergence of Artemisinin-resistant strains of malaria in parts of Asia. Artemisinin is the core component in the recommended treatment protocol for uncomplicated malaria. Artemisinin-resistant parasites potentially could limit the efficacy of the first-line defense against malaria.
Another innovative approach to the control of malaria is the use of insecticide-treated mosquito netting. These nets, which last approximately 2 to 3 years, have been found to highly effective in reducing the number of new cases of malaria reported in areas in which they are in use. The use of this type of netting has increased in sub-Saharan Africa by 80% between 2010 and 2015.
Indoor spraying of insecticides has also been found to reduce malaria. This approach is especially useful in reducing mosquito vectors when at least 80% of the households in a given area employ this approach. Such spraying is effective for between three and six months depending on the surfaces sprayed.
Malaria impacts the economies of countries with high rates of infection. In the most impoverished areas with high rates of malaria infection, families must frequently choose between food and treating those infected with malaria. Malaria is a significant contributor to poverty in that it prevents those with the disease from working.