John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

April 25 is World Malaria Day

It's World Malaria Day! Every year on this date, the World Health Organization and its partners work to raise awareness of the continuing threat malaria poses to people living in undeveloped regions. Here in the US, malaria was pretty much wiped out years ago, but it still kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, most of them African children under five.

What makes this especially aggravating is that malaria is both curable and preventable, and given sufficient resources, political will, and commitment, the disease can be virtually eradicated. in 1947, the Centers for Disease Control and public health agencies in 13 southeastern states undertook a massive effort to eliminate the disease in this country, and were so successful that just two years later, malaria was no longer considered a significant public health problem, and by 1951 the CDC was no longer participating in the National Malaria Eradication Program. (One wonders if, given the political climate in many southeastern states today, whether a program like this would be as successful today.)

WHO estimates that to replicate that success worldwide, it would cost about $5.1 billion (US) every year through 2020. In 2011, only $2.3 billion was available. And unfortunately, the countries that are most in need of disease control are the ones that can least afford it. It's not a coincidence that many of the countries with the highest rates of extreme poverty also have some of the highest rates of malaria. Some even say malaria causes poverty, because it keeps parents out of work and children out of school.

There is some good news regarding malaria; since 2000, worldwide malaria rates have fallen by 25%, and by 33% in Africa. And looking back at posts I made about malaria in 2005 and 2009, I do see some evidence of improvement. In 2005, it was said that a child in Africa dies of malaria every 30 seconds; now, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership says one child dies every 60 seconds. In 2009, an estimated 247 million people were affected by malaria annually; WHO currently estimates 219 million cases of malaria annually. A 12% reduction in two years, that's not bad!

That said, 219 million is still huge. And despite it being the focus of the majority of anti-malaria efforts in the last two decades, Africa remains the hardest-hit region of the word. This map, in which the size of each country is shown proportionally to the percentage of global malaria deaths occurring there, demonstrates that rather dramatically.

Proportionally sized map of malaria deaths by county
Graphic: Benjamin D Hennig, University of Sheffield / UNICEF via

In fact, it seems the percentage of malaria deaths occurring in Africa seems to have gone up slightly since 2005; back then, I said "around 90%" of malaria deaths occurred in Africa; RBM now says it's 91%. Maybe that just means that disease control efforts there have been less successful than in southeast Asia and elsewhere, but still, yuck. Antimalarial drug resistance remains a problem, and insecticide-resistant mosquitoes have been identified in 64 countries.

The point is, malaria sucks, and we should all count our blessings that it's not something we have to deal with.
Tags: malaria

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