WHAT IS MALARIA?
The World Health Organisation, WHO defines malaria as a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. The disease that is caused by Plasmodium parasites is preventable and curable. The parasites are spread from one person to another through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, called “malaria vectors.” There are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans, and two of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat. P. falciparum is the most prevalent malaria parasite on the African continent. It is responsible for most malaria-related deaths globally. Like every other disease, malaria comes with signs and symptoms that include; fever, headache, chills and in some cases general body pains. If not treated within 24 hours, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness, often leading to death.
OCCURRENCE AND EVOLUTION OF MALARIA IN AFRICA
There are uncountable malaria related deaths that occur every year in Africa. While the occurrence of the disease is thought to have ameliorated, it still remains to be completely curbed or eradicated. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2016, the region recorded 90% of malaria cases and 91% of malaria deaths. Some 15 countries – all in sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 80% of the global malaria burden. The most recent World Malaria Report, released in November 2017, indicates that there were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, up from 211 million cases in 2015. The number of estimated malaria deaths stood at 445 000 in 2016, almost the same figure like the previous year that stood at 446 000.
In regions where the spread of the disease is high, children under 5 are especially vulnerable to infection, illness and death. This age group accounts for over 70 percent of malaria deaths. It is reported that a child under 5 dies of malaria every two minutes. However, the number of malaria deaths of children under have has fallen from 440 000 in 2010 to 285 000 in 2016.
FACTORS THAT LEAD TO THE SPREAD OF MALARIA
There are a good number of factors that lead to the spread of Malaria, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The presence of swamps that provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes is a common sight. In addition, the improper disposal of waste and poor hygienic conditions of some societies makes it even worse. The absence of the use of treated mosquito nets adds its weight to the spread of the disease. Many people are still very ignorant of the use of treated mosquito nets and prefer not to use them.
MEASURES TAKEN TO LIMIT THE SPREAD OF MALARIA
There are different means through which the spread of malaria can be controlled. It is usually said that prevention is better than cure. Malaria can be prevented using anti-malarial drugs. For example in 2012, the WHO recommended seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention as a malaria prevention strategy for parts of the Sahel region of Africa. It involves the administration of monthly courses of amodiaquine plus sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine to all children under 5 years of age during the season when the spread of the disease is highest. The use of insecticidal treated mosquito nets is another means of prevention of malaria. Furthermore, there are now malaria vaccines that helps in the control, prevention and spread of the disease. So far, the only approved vaccine as of 2015 is the RTS, S otherwise known as Mosquirix. RTS, S is an injectable vaccine that provides partial protection against malaria in young children. On April 24, 2017 the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa announced, that Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi will partner with the world health body in the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP) that will make the RTS,S vaccine available in selected areas of the three countries. Vaccinations were due to commence in 2018.
It is worth noting that even though Malaria is still present in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world like Asia and South America, there is an ongoing collective effort to fight against the spread of the disease. The 2018 edition of World Malaria Day was celebrated under the theme: “Ready to beat malaria”, which underscores the collective energy and commitment of the universal malaria community in uniting around the common goal of a world free of malaria.
AFRIC Editorial article.