Most people don’t know that today is World Malaria Day. I can’t tell you how long World Malaria Day has existed but I know it’s been around for at least the last 5 years.
Discussing malaria in the US is a funny thing. Either you know a lot about it because you work in the field or traveled/lived in a place with malaria prevalence OR you wonder why everyone doesn’t just get the vaccine. I meet SO many people who ask me whether the reason the malaria burden is so high is because not everyone has access to the vaccine. It shocks people when I tell them that there isn’t a vaccine. That’s right, NO VACCINE. Some smart people are working on it though.
People in the US forget about malaria because we just don’t have it here. The US underwent a mass eradication campaign in the late 40’s early 50’s that literally eliminated malaria in the South and Midwest. We are so fortunate that the eradication campaign worked.
Unfortunately many in the world are not so lucky. Malaria afflicts over half of the world’s population, mostly children in Africa. I pulled 5 facts about malaria from the World Health Organization to share.
- Malaria is a disease which can be transmitted to people of all ages. It is caused by parasites of the species plasmodium that are spread from person to person through the bites of infected mosquitoes. If not treated promptly with effective medicines, malaria can often be fatal.
- About 3.3 billion people - half of the world's population - are at risk of malaria. Every year, this leads to about 250 million malaria cases and nearly one million deaths. People living in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable.
- One in five (20%) of all childhood deaths in Africa are due to malaria. It is estimated that an African child has on average between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year. Every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria in Africa.
- Pregnant women are at high risk not only of dying from the complications of severe malaria, but also spontaneous abortion, premature delivery or stillbirth. Malaria is also a cause of severe maternal anemia and is responsible for about one third of preventable low birth weight babies. It contributes to the deaths of an estimated 10,000 pregnant women and up to 200,000 infants each year in Africa alone.
- Malaria causes an average loss of 1.3% of annual economic growth in countries with intense transmission. It traps families and communities in a downward spiral of poverty, disproportionately affecting marginalized and poor people who cannot afford treatment or who have limited access to health care. Malaria has lifelong effects through increased poverty and impaired learning. It cuts attendance at schools and workplaces. However, it is preventable and curable.
A child in Africa dies every 30 second from Malaria. Just imagine it. This little guy could have been one of them.
Remember when I was in Malawi (here, here and here) last year? I was there helping with a malaria survey my organization works on. I spent a couple of days in the field helping out staff and observing how the survey works. The guy in the blue is Makamo. He’s a Malawian government employee who with his small team, did sort of a census of malaria burden in a couple of areas in Malawi.
I shadowed his team for a few days watched him and some amazing people work. The little boy in the picture is about 5 years old. Makamo tested him and it turns out that not only does he have malaria, he also has severe anemia.
Makamo test the little guy at his home and was able to get the results right on the spot. The little boy was very brave to let Makamo prick his finger and let me document the whole thing.
Makamo explained to the boys mother that he was sick and needed to take Co-Artem everyday for 2 weeks. She also needed to take the boy down to the local health clinic to check on his anemia. The little guy was distracted by the biscuit he got for being such a good patient (my contribution ). His little cousin is clearly very jealous – check out the look on her face.
This last picture was taken a few years ago in Zambia at an orphanage outside of Lusaka. All the kids in the picture with their hands up have had malaria. If I had to guess, it looks like over 75% of them have had malaria. Again, kind of amazing.
I’m not sure World Malaria Day is about fundraising (though EVERY little bit helps) as much it is about awareness that malaria still exists but a lot of people are trying to do something about it.
If you do want to help, there are some amazing organizations out there that take donations. A few are listed here.