Every 60 seconds a child dies from Malaria. On World Malaria Day 2015, its time the world took its temperature
It is one of the oldest infections known to humanity; originating millions of years ago, able to cross borders and continents, time and place. The ancient Greeks, labelled it a ‘miasmic’ disease caused by pollution and foul air. The Italians called it ‘Roman Fever,’ the English named it ‘tertian ague.’ Even Shakespeare patented it as a curse from Caliban ’from all the infections that the sun sucks up, from bogs fens and flats, on Prosper fall.’ Finally in 1894, this infection now known as Malaria, was identified and we have been at war with it ever since.
Right now, somewhere in the sub-saharan tropics, a female night-biting mosquito is roaming a sweltering human habitat looking for a blood. A full feeding means she can lay more eggs in the nearby swamp. She hones in on a baby lying in a iron cradle in a baked brick shack, in an unplanned slum, and settles to draw out the blood.
The problem is this mosquito is carrying, the plasmodium parasite, the tiny microorganism that causes malaria. Through the mosquito’s salvia, the parasite enters the baby’s bloodstream, and quickly travels to the liver and multiplies. Liver cells are overwhelmed and burst under the pressure. Once more the plasmodium reenters the bloodstream in a vicious circle. For the young child infected, a mosquito bite always carries a risk of fever, shivering, jaundice, and even death.
Every year approximately 198 million people are diagnosed with Malaria, 500 000 of whom die as a complication, 78% of all deaths are in children under the age of 5. As of 2014, 3.2 billion people (over half the world’s population) are at risk from the disease, and 97 countries are dealing with outbreaks. Despite this worldwide problem, 80% of Malaria deaths, occur in just 18 countries most of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Because of such demographics, one would be forgiven in thinking Malaria is a disease of poverty. In fact malaria is often a cause of it just as much as a consequence. Mosquitoes laden with the plasmodium exist in nearly every region of the world from Korea to Peru, but they are especially prevalent in tropical regions. It just so happens that such regions are populated by ‘developing countries’ who struggle with even the basic provisions of statehood. Why this is, remains controversial, but what’s certain, is that when an outbreak occurs in such states, it has a debilitating affect on the local population. Infants are at risk of death, children cannot go to school, women cannot raise their offspring, and men can’t work. This leads to poverty, poor health, high unemployment, lack of opportunity and of course poverty. Families, are a microcosm of the state, and like the state, are overwhelmed. The affects of malaria are intergenerational and widespread.
Yet malaria as well as being contracted through mosquito bites, can also be spread through close bodily contact. This means those already living in areas already marked by economic degradation, and overpopulation, are more likely to suffer epidemics and pass it on. The geographical predilection of the parasite is reinforced by substandard living conditions.
For such reasons Malaria costs the world economy $12 billion in lost productivity each year; 1.3% of GDP growth. Beyond the economic ramifications, is the all to obvious human cost. Only with investment do we have any hope of eradicating the disease. According to the World Health Organisation 5.1 billion is needed every year to reach MDS goals, yet in the most recent statistics, the annual net contribution to rolling back malaria is 2.6 billion; meaning there is a funding gap of over 50%.
Yet we must never lose sight of the fact progress has been made! Between the year 2000 and 2013, the mortality rate of malaria was reduced globally by nearly 50%. An estimated 4.2 million lives were saved as a result of preventative medicine and targeted treatment. 97% of those lives saved were children under the age of 5.
However more can be done. Governments must make public-health a priority; water basins, whether they be natural or artificial, must be treated. Every family, residing within at-risk areas must have access to insecticide-treated Mosquito nets, one per-person. Finally all communities must be informed and included; whether this is by media campaigns, educational lessons, or better healthcare accessibility, all play a part in prevention. In terms of active treatment, Artemisinin-combination therapy, must be the available to all, and free of charge. More so, governments must invest in new pharmaceuticals which don’t just disrupt transmission but annihilate the source (the horrible plasmodium parasite.) With continued research a vaccine will eventually be discovered. While coordination is needed between international and national organisations we must remember is transmitted via female mosquitos, which thrive in tropical terrain. As such regional strategies must play a part in reducing the rate of infection.
As the article headline points out, every minute a child dies from malaria. It is a disease that attacks the most vulnerable from babies and toddlers, to pregnant women and the elderly. It causes untold damage to communities, and results in billions being wiped off the world economy. Yet if we invest today, the future dividends will be worth it.