The Fight to End Malaria
Malaria is an infectious disease that threatens the lives of 3.3 billion people around the world. Transmitted through mosquitoes, symptoms include fever, headache and vomiting. If drugs are not administered quickly after transmission, malaria infection can develop into anemia, hypoglycemia or cerebral malaria. In cerebral malaria, capillaries carrying blood to the brain are blocked which can lead to learning disabilities, coma and even death.
If left untreated, malaria can develop into the severe form of the disease which means organ failure or abnormalities in blood or metabolism. Symptoms of severe malaria include difficulty breathing and convulsions, and approximately one-fifth of these patients die even if they are hospitalized in a timely fashion.
In 2013, there were an estimated 198 million cases of malaria worldwide. Each year, approximately 600,000 lives are lost to the disease with approximately 90% of all deaths occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. Children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable, with 78% of all malaria deaths occurring in children under the age of five. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a child dies from malaria every minute.
Malaria is both a result of and a cause of poverty, preventing adults from working, keeping children out of school, and drying up government funds. Families affected by malaria in rural areas, for example, harvest 60% fewer crops. In some countries, the disease accounts for up to 40% of total health expenditure and 20-50% of hospital admissions. The cost of malaria to Africa alone is an estimated $12.5 billion per year, or 1.3% of GDP.
Between 2001 and 2013, an estimated 4.2 million lives were saved as a result of an increase in malaria interventions. Still, malaria has hindered the achievement of several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) including improving maternal health, reducing infant mortality rates, and achieving universal access to primary education. Pregnant women, for example, are four times more likely to contract and twice as likely to die from malaria as other adults. In Africa, malaria during pregnancy causes 400,000 cases of severe maternal anemia and 200,000 newborn deaths each year. Young children, especially infants, are more vulnerable to all forms of malaria with repeated infections causing children to miss long periods of school. Malaria also makes children more susceptible to diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia, which can lead to even more time away from school.
Prevention and Treatment
There are a variety of ways to prevent and treat malaria with access to rapid-diagnostic tests expanding in rural areas and artemisinin-based combination therapy drugs (ACTs) being widely used. A full course of ACTs costs just one dollar, and can cure a child in one to three days. While scientists around the world work to accelerate the development of a malaria vaccine, strategies to protect against infection include using mosquito nets to create a protective barrier at night when most transmissions occur, and spraying insecticide in homes to kill mosquitoes. Malaria interventions are available, cost-effective, and have contributed to a 48% global decline in malaria deaths. Continued and sustainable funding, however, is needed. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a GlobalWA member, has set aggressive goals to provide bed nets to every household that needs them. How impactful are bed nets? In Senegal, where 80% of households own a bed net, the number of malaria cases went down 41% in a single year.
The Funding Gap
An estimated $5.1 billion is needed each year to achieve universal access to malaria interventions by 2020. At present, however, less than half of the money needed is available. This $3.5 billion funding gap threatens to slow down progress in the fight against malaria. This is especially worrisome in Africa, where countries with the highest malaria risks are facing some of the highest funding gaps. Without sustained long-term funding, the gains made against malaria could be reversed.
World Malaria Day was established in 2007 as a way to mobilize advocates and citizens around the world to help put a stop to the disease. This year’s April 25th World Malaria Day theme is Invest in the future, Defeat malaria, which encourages people to help close the malaria funding gap. 2015 also marks the ten-year anniversary of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The goal of the PMI was to reduce malaria-related mortality by 50% across fifteen high-burden countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through a rapid scale-up of treatment and prevention. The PMI’s achievements include the procurement of 40 million insecticide treated mosquito nets and 48 million antimalarial treatments.
Recently, the federal government released the PMI’s strategy for 2015-2020 which is “to work with PMI-supported countries and partners to further reduce malaria deaths and substantially decrease malaria morbidity, towards the long-term goal of elimination.” NGO’s are crucial to helping achieve the PMI’s goals.
GlobalWA Members on the Front Lines
- Malaria No More: Malaria No More is helping to eradicate malaria by engaging leaders, rallying the public, and delivering lifesaving tools and education to families across Africa. Rallying U.S. political leaders to provide funding and to support policies that will help eliminate the disease, Malaria No More also conducts campaigns abroad that encourage citizens to take steps to protect themselves. These campaigns frequently employ local celebrities, and focus on such topics as reminding people to use their mosquito nets.
- MED25 International: Providing individuals in rural African communities with quality, culturally appropriate, and affordable health care, Med25 serves the larger Mbita District of Kenya which is home to over 118,000 residents from farming villages and fishing communities. MED25 runs a comprehensive care clinic that provides services to prevent and treat an array of diseases, including malaria. The clinic brings medicine to people who would otherwise not have access to treatment.
- Medical Teams International (MTI): MTI responds to disasters worldwide and supports long-term global health initiatives. They provide medical supplies to communities that need them most but that lack access to life-saving resources. In 2014, for example, MTI volunteers took mosquito nets to communities in Uganda and showed families how to properly hang them. Widespread use of mosquito nets help slow the spread of malaria by preventing bites from disease carrying mosquitos.
- PATH: PATH is dedicated to creating sustainable solutions that enable communities around the world to break longstanding cycles of poor health. PATH attacks malaria from all sides — treatment, prevention and elimination. To help those suffering from malaria, PATH provides a stable supply of the best malaria drugs available. PATH also supports countries in controlling the parasite with innovative methods such as new approaches to diagnose the disease, as well as provides scientific expertise to drive the development of the world’s first malaria vaccine.
- Pilgrim Africa: Pilgrim Africa is dedicated to creating a malaria-free Uganda. Of every dollar spent on malaria in their budget, about 10 cents goes to education and awareness. They also do district-wide demonstrations of effective malaria control, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, in order to show how malaria transmission can be reduced dramatically, and at scale. And, their Move on Malaria projects save lives, prevent disease, serve as direct and important operational research for national scale-up plans, and will further increase attention, awareness and hope within Uganda that malaria can be defeated.
- PSI: PSI focuses on a variety of interventions to improve the availability, affordability and use of effective malaria treatment. PSI supports Ministries of Health in 38 countries and is the largest distributor of insecticide-treated mosquito nets in the world. Interventions include rapid diagnostic tests and quality medicines to effectively treat the disease. PSI collaborates with national malaria control programs to develop strategies that suit each country’s needs.
- World Vision: With projects in nearly 100 countries, World Vision is dedicated to working with children, families and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Focusing on child and maternal health, World Vision provides medicines, supplies and interventions to prevent and treat malaria. To date, 3,330,313 people have been protected from malaria by distributions of long-lasting insecticidal nets with the support of World Vision donors.