April 25th is World Malaria Day. Doesn’t really sound like something to celebrate does it? Fortunately, people in many parts of the world can sleep well at night knowing they don’t have to worry about contracting malaria, but there is a sizable percentage of the population to whom malaria still poses a risk, and that risk can be lethal. Malaria, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, kills about 650,000 people a year, although the number could be higher as under reporting remains an issue in many parts of the developing world. The key thing to note is that malaria is preventable and it is curable, and increased prevention and control measures have reduced the affect of malaria in many places. Obviously though, the fight is far from over.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly 216 million people were exposed to malaria in 2010 leading to 655,000 deaths. The majority of those deaths were children in Africa. Its’ an alarming number considering there are treatments available. While great strides have been made to eradicate malaria, resulting in a 25 percent decline in malaria mortality rates in the past decade, scientists and public health officials believe we are at a critical juncture in the fight against malaria. Malaria parasites can adapt and evolve over time and can develop an immunity to anti-malarial drugs. Further complicating the matter, counterfeit anti-malarial drugs may be aiding in the parasites resistance to available treatments. So, in the absence of 100 percent affective post-infection treatments and with the threat of new strains of drug resistant malaria spreading, its important to maintain current levels of funding to support continued research into new treatments and permanent eradication.
In 2012, the Roll Back Malaria campaign for World Malaria Day brings together more than 30 international government and health organizations to promote awareness of malaria, promote the strides that have been made to fight it, and to raise awareness of the work still to be done. A significant push to eliminate malaria has come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and they have put together the following infographic to illustrate the fight against malaria.
Click the Graphic to Open the Interactive Version
Increased awareness can also serve to prevent being exposed to this nasty little parasite yourself. Having personally been infected with malaria, I was lucky to have a simple, cost-effective, over the counter treatment in my medical kit, but for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, that option is not available. Until the fight is over, here are some tips if you plan on traveling to regions of the world affected by malaria so the next time you fall asleep in a hammock at sunset, you don’t wind up looking like I did. (Fortunately, that was in Fiji, where malaria has been stamped out.)
- Reduce exposure. Follow your doctor’s advice and purchase the recommended antimalarial medication, mosquito netting and insect repellents that contain up to 20-50% DEET.
- Avoid exposed skin especially when mosquitoes are most active, such as dusk and dawn. Mosquitoes also seem to be attracted to dark clothing so the lighter color the better.
- Mosquito nets treated permethrin can help reduce exposure if you are bush camping or in places where your accommodation does not provide protection.
- Malaria parasites can continue to reproduce rapidly and may not appear for weeks or months, so be sure to complete your antimalarial regimen after you return home as prescribed. Initial symptoms of malaria can be confused with the flu, so if you develop flu like symptoms after returning home, you should seek medical advice and let them know you’ve been to an area prone to malaria. It might save your life.