Malaria is one of the world’s top killers. Many of us hear about it in the news but are unaware of its mass destruction because it has been eliminated in the US since 1951, and completely stopped in much of the Northern Hemisphere by 1971. The Southern Hemisphere is still struggling with this disease, but there is good news: It can be eradicated. And it needs to be.
“In the history of humanity, it’s likely that no disease has ever caused more suffering, more sickness, and more death than malaria.” — Melinda Gates, 2007 Malaria Forum Keynote Address
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium. It is transmitted through bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver and then go on to infect red blood cells. Malaria infections can develop into anemia, hypoglycemia or cerebral malaria, in which capillaries carrying blood to the brain are blocked. Symptoms, which include fever, headache, and vomiting, begin 10 days to 4 weeks after infection. However, a person may feel ill as early as 7 days later.
Currently, Malaria claims the lives of 453,000 children per year, 90% occurring in Africa — That is one dead child per minute. Every minute. Half the world is
seeing families be destroyed, because of this illness. It keeps more children out of school than any other disease (Malaria accounts for half of preventable absenteeism in African school, causing up to 10 million missed days each year). Furthermore, it keeps adults out of word and robs families of precious disposable income (Malaria costs Africa an estimated $12 billion a year in lost productivity)
“Why should we embrace the goal of eradicating malaria instead of controlling it? Or reducing it? ” — Melinda Gates, 2007 Malaria Forum Keynote Address
- The Ethical Reason. Every life is worth saving, and settling to simply control Malaria is accepting the deaths of millions. It is not fair to let people suffer because of this disease if we have the capability to eradicate Malaria and save them.
- The Financial Cost. If we plan on only controlling the disease, we will be forever plagued by the aftereffects of millions of deaths. To provide even 80% control globally, we will need to spend billions more each year than we do today. Investing now to completely eradicate Malaria is the wiser and more economic decision.
- Epidemiology. Parasites can develop resistance to insecticides and medicines. For this reason, we will never be able to control malaria for long. Malaria is smart and it will adapt in order to stay alive. Taking the time and money now to eradicate it wipes out this problem.
“Bill and I believe that […] advances in science and medicine, your promising research, and the rising concern of people around the world represent a historic opportunity not just to treat malaria or to control it—but to chart a long-term course to eradicate it.” — Melinda Gates, 2007 Malaria Forum Keynote Address
Today, we have more than we have ever had to attempt the eradication of Malaria. Our methods are not perfect, but they are a start. Here are two recent innovations that could make our goal of eradication possible:
- Diagnostics. This Did you know Malaria was actually a curable disease? Many people do not, but thanks to a new class of drugs derived from the plant Artemesia Annua (sweet wormwood), it is possible. The problem is that many people do not know they have malaria until they show severe symptoms, and by that time it is often too late. In 2010, a new 50-cent tool called the RDT—rapid diagnostic test—was created. It is expanding the world’s ability to confirm malaria cases with 99% accuracy in remote settings, ensuring that people get the right treatment when and where they need.
- Modeling Systems. In order to eradicate Malaria, we need to identify the key migration hotspots and target our recourses in the most cost-effective and strategic ways. New tracking devices make this possible. In Kenya, for example, these maps helped experts target large-scale tea plantations in the country’s Lake Zone. Comprehensive efforts at the plantations could make it possible to eliminate malaria from large swaths of the country’s highlands without even having to run elimination efforts there.
If you would like to take the first step towards our goal and donate, consider giving to Malaria No More. It is a nonprofit that has reached hundreds of millions of Africans and done a remarkable job to help eradicate Malaria.
“No child should die from malaria. No child. And the only way to end death from malaria is to end malaria.” — Melinda Gates, 2007 Malaria Forum Keynote Address