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.

Raising Awareness

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