Battling the Bite: World Malaria Day

25/04/2012 – The tiniest mosquito bite can have the deadliest repercussions for children under the age of five and pregnant women. Together, these groups make up the most vulnerable population to fatal malaria infections.

It appears that we, as an international community with the potential to end malaria-related deaths, are standing at a crossroads. Will we invest enough resources to effectively rid developing countries of the parasite’s dangers or will we cede gained ground to the mosquitos?

At stake in the next battle of the war against malaria will be making sure all that we’ve accomplished over the past decade is not reversed. As such, the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day is “Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria.”

While usually little more than a nuisance here in Canada, mosquitos carry deadly diseases in developing countries—from yellow fever to, yes, malaria.

Globally, almost half of the world’s total population of seven billion people are at risk of contracting malaria. Each year, 655,000 people die from the infection—children under five years old and pregnant women are most at risk of severe infection. Almost all of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

World Malaria Day, inaugurated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007, is a global day of action to promote effective solutions to control malaria.

“In countries where access to malaria control interventions has improved most significantly, overall child mortality rates have fallen by approximately 20%,” said the Rollback Malaria (RBM) initiative in a news release.

Such investments have already begun to payoff. Armenia is now malaria-free while, while Zambia has reduced child deaths by 62 per cent likely due to malaria control efforts.

But, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the malaria caseload has more than tripled to 155,000 in only a few years, says Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders).

Fragile gains in malaria prevention will be lost without support from global leaders, says RBM.  Controlling malaria costs only cents per diagnostic test, little over a dollar for anti-malarial treatment and ten dollars for an insecticide-treated bednets—small investments with huge payoffs in terms of human life.

“Long-term success will also depend on investments in on-going research and development to combat emerging threats such as parasite resistance,” says the RBM.

Goal #6 of the Millennium Development Goals calls for countries to have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.