Today marks the fifth anniversary of World Malaria Day an initiative started by the World Health Organization (WHO) to call attention to a global goal of ending malaria deaths by 2015. Nearly half of the world s population is at risk of contracting malaria, a parasitic disease transmitted by certain mosquitoes. Malaria affects between 200 and 300 million people worldwide, and is characterized by recurrent high fevers, flu-like symptoms, weakness, diarrhea, dehydration and especially among the very young death. Most cases and fatalities occur in sub-Saharan Africa among children age five and under.
Although the U.S. eradicated malaria over fifty years ago, thanks largely to DDT, the disease is still responsible for about 655,000 deaths each year worldwide, with some experts suggesting that the mortality rate is actually twice as high as previously estimated. There is a glimmer of hope, however, as the WHO has announced that global malaria deaths have decreased by over 25 percent since 2000 and by a third in Africa.
Effective antimalarial drugs, such as artemisinin combination therapy (ACT), are no doubt partially responsible for this decline. However, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross notes that there are also a lot of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs reducing the efficacy of the real ones by promoting resistance. Additionally, using insecticide-treated bed nets is an important tool in malaria prevention. And as he points out, Indoor residual spraying with small amounts of the potent and safe insecticide DDT can help reduce the toll of malaria dramatically, especially were it to be implemented more widely.
ACSH s Leah Wibecan knows first hand the devastating consequences that malaria can have: She spent a year living in Senegal on a Yale University research fellowship. There she studied children s health and examined the difficulties that parents face when trying to obtain treatment for their children s illnesses, including malaria. The problem of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is complex, she says. Even when treatments are available, it may be extremely difficult for people to access them. Families in my region often could not access transportation to a hospital or pay for a ticket to see the doctor. Reducing the toll of this disease in these parts wil require a wide range of initiatives.