Will Malaria Soon Be a Disease of the Past?

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Image courtesy of NIAID via Flickr. 

Over the past 15 years, the global malaria death rate has dropped by 60 percent, reflecting an estimated 6.2 million lives saved through preventative measures and proper treatment.

Other estimates are much higher: a recent study of sub-Saharan Africa concludes that almost 700 million cases have been averted since 2000.  

Malaria is both preventable and curable, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but even with the declining death rate, over 400,000 people still die from the disease every year. Due to their disease-spreading abilities, mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal, including humans.

Africa alone accounts for 80 percent of malaria cases. With the numbers now steadily dropping, thirteen countries in Africa reported zero incidences of malaria, and others are looking to get on board with elimination.

In order to effectively control the disease, it is necessary to impart multiple strategies. A recent report from UNICEF and WHO devises that there are three main ways to fight malaria.

The organizations hope to see an end to malaria by implementing and maintaining these strategies:

  • Vector Control:

Malaria is a vector-borne disease, meaning that it is transmitted through a living organism (the vector in this case, mosquitos) and can be passed to or between humans and animals.

Vector control methods aim to block parasites from being transmitted.

There are two widely used methods of vector control: insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and indoor residual spraying, which involves coating the walls and surfaces of a home with insecticide. A third method, mosquito larval control, is also used on occasion. 

[contextly_sidebar id=”SaKKWC8u0gJJcbb7kLTpK1ErpQy1ASOR”] Insecticide-treated nets, also called bed nets, are the preferred method of prevention; in the past 15 years, one billion insecticide-treated nets have been distributed across Africa, and are responsible for 68 percent of averted incidences of malaria.

The nets create a physical barrier between the mosquitoes and the people sleeping underneath, and the insecticide works to kill any mosquitoes that land upon them. 

  • Chemoprevention:

The chemoprevention method uses antimalarial medicines preventatively for populations that are at higher risk of contracting the disease, including pregnant women, infants, and children ages 3-5 years old.

Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs) is currently the most effective antimalarial medicine, according to WHO, and comes in the form of a co-formulated tablet. Artemisinin is derived from sweet wormwood, and can reduce parasites in the blood of malaria-infected patients.

  • Case management:

Early diagnosis of malaria and the subsequent treatment, within 24 hours of fever onset, is crucial in preventing the disease from becoming severe or fatal.

The Takeaway

As progress accelerates, UNICEF’s targets show hope for malaria death rates to be reduced by an additional 40 percent or higher, and see the disease eliminated in 10 countries by 2020.

The success, however, does not come without challenges. Methods of preventing and curing malaria have long been known, but scientific, economic, and cultural reasons continue to halt progress.

There are still millions of people without access to the strategies which best fight malaria, like bed nets and prompt diagnosis. And, the threat of mosquitoes developing resistance to drugs and insecticides continues to grow.

In order for widespread elimination of the disease to occur, access to treatment options must be universal and funding requirements will have to be met, and countries that have already reduced or eliminated malaria must not slacken in their vigilance.

Cheyenne MacDonald