Malaria, a disease largely eliminated in the developed world, remains a health issue for developing nations. According to World Health Organization estimates, 207 million cases of the deadly disease emerged in 2012 alone, with about 80 percent coming from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To help communities in these nations fight malaria, NGOs and foreign aid providers must not only provide malaria treatment methods but also find ways to address and protect people from its causes.
So, what are the causes of malaria?
The Mayo Clinic identifies the main path to infection as the transmission of parasites through mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can carry small parasites that cause malaria, and when they bite humans the parasites can enter the bloodstream. Once in the body, the malarial parasites travel to the liver, where they grow and develop. The maturation process lasts from a week to nearly a year, but once the parasites reach adulthood, they enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells.
At this stage, the common symptoms of malaria, including fever, chills and sweating, develop. At the same time, mosquitoes that suck infected blood will get the malarial parasites, allowing them to spread through bites to other people.
Though malaria primarily spreads through mosquito bites, people can contract it from other sources. Malaria is a blood-borne disease, and receiving blood transfusions from infected individuals can lead to transmission. Sharing dirty hypodermic needles will also cause malaria to spread, and mothers can pass the disease on to their unborn children.
If left untreated within 24 hours of the first symptoms, malaria can cause brain damage, fluid buildup in the lungs and liver failure, all of which can be fatal. The World Health Organization believes that in 2012 malaria killed 627,000 people, the majority of whom were African children under five.
Fortunately, the mortality rates of malaria have fallen 42 percent globally since 2000. Still, the disease is lethal enough that a child in Africa dies every minute from malaria-related symptoms.
With no existing vaccine for the disease, programs to reduce deaths must focus on preventing malaria and safely treating existing cases.
Knowing that mosquitoes are the primary transmitters of malarial parasites, what do governments and other organizations do to prevent bites?
According to the World Health Organization, the two primary methods to keep mosquitoes away from people and their homes are to use insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying of insecticides.
Projects from NGOs and foreign aid agencies to provide these services to communities free of charge will help prevent mosquitoes from spreading malaria.
While using either insecticide-treated nets or indoor residual spraying to stop mosquito bites is effective, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that, in areas of medium transmission, using both methods reduced the risk of infection an extra 36 percent compared to one method alone.
Public education programs to teach people and doctors not to reuse medical equipment, not to give transfusions of infected blood and how to recognize symptoms quickly can also supplement insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying to stop malaria at its source.
Malaria is a dangerous disease that takes the lives of many young children daily, but since people know what causes malaria, it can be prevented. Thanks to technology to kill parasite-carrying mosquitoes, deaths from malaria are dropping and the world is becoming a safer place to live.
– Ted Rappleye
Sources: The Mayo Clinic, World Health Organization, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation