Malaria is a devastating disease caused by the parasite Plasmodium. Malaria is spread from person to person through the bite of a female Anophleles mosquito. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the chronically ill are most vulnerable.
When a mosquito bites an infected person, it ingests blood containing the malaria parasite. The parasite then grows and matures in the mosquito’s gut before it moves into the mosquito’s saliva. The parasite is then injected into a new person through the mosquito’s saliva when it bites another person. Once the malaria parasite enters a person’s blood, it travels to the liver, where it grows and multiples. The parasite then moves from the liver to red blood cells, where it continues to grow and multiply, releasing toxins that cause malaria symptoms.
Symptoms appear 9 to 14 days after the person is bitten and range from headache to fever, joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and exhaustion. Malaria can be deadly if left untreated. The longer a person waits to be treated, the worse malaria becomes. It is critical to confirm the illness as soon as symptoms appear. In some cases, a person can be infected with malaria without demonstrating its symptoms, making aggressive screening, treating, and rapid reporting critical to seeking out and fighting the disease everywhere it is found.
Malaria threatens roughly half of the world’s population. More than 200 million people are infected annually, and the toll is greatest among the world’s poor.
History of malaria
Malaria has plagued humankind throughout history. Only recently has real progress in sub-Saharan Africa been made. Dramatic funding increases from global donors along with national leadership have resulted in significant reductions in illnesses and deaths. Since 2000, global malaria deaths have fallen by more than 25 percent. In countries where malaria control programs have scaled up the use of proven interventions, significant reductions—more than 20 percent—in all causes of death in children under five have been observed.
- Long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs). Bed nets provide a physical barrier, and the insecticide treatment repels and kills mosquitoes.
- Indoor residual spraying (IRS). Spraying the interior walls of homes with insecticides kills mosquitoes when they come into contact with treated surfaces.
- Intermittent preventive treatment of malaria for pregnant women (IPTp). Malaria during pregnancy is dangerous for both mother and baby. IPTp involves administering antimalarial drugs during pregnancy to prevent infection.
- Rapid diagnostic tests. Cheap, portable blood tests confirm malaria infection within 15 minutes.
- Antimalarial medicines. Quick treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapy is critical to preventing malaria-related deaths.
- Rapid reporting systems. Data-enabled mobile phones help provide real-time data on the malaria burden and where infections are occurring.
- Mass test and treat. This approach seeks out pockets of transmission, finding and clearing both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections in malaria hotspots.
- Active surveillance. Investigating positive malaria cases in areas of low transmission ensures that communities remain malaria-free.
As countries build on progress and plan for the future, success will be based on sustaining and increasing funding and political will. Without them, the lives saved today can be lost tomorrow. As countries shift their focus from increasing the use of proven interventions to sustaining control and then on to creating malaria-free zones and ultimately achieving elimination, new programmatic models will need to be created and the path to success must be defined. Additionally, research and development will need to continue to stay ahead of the changing malaria parasite.