Malaria is one of the top five leading causes of death for children under five, killing almost 700,000 every year (over 1 million children in conjunction with another illness). It is spread through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito and persists in over 90 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, putting almost 40% of the world's population at risk. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most severely endemic, with as many as 9 out of every 10 cases of the disease.
Thriving in warm, humid environments, malaria often occurs in endemic areas during severe emergency and epidemic situations such as wars or migrations, and where there are large population movements and deteriorating sanitary conditions. Outbreak conditions are further exacerbated by weak or failed health systems, unplanned development activities, and severe environmental and climactic conditions, such as monsoons.
Effects of malaria
The effects of malaria can be devastating, especially to young children. Acute cases of malaria are often associated with debilitating flu-like symptoms, while more serious cases can lead to anemia, organ failure, and induced coma. Severe afflictions, which occur most often among children under five, can develop into cerebral malaria potentially leading to brain swelling, convulsions, and death.
For women who are pregnant, the effects of malaria can be especially dangerous, where contracting the disease can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths and severe anemia all of which greatly increase the chances of maternal death. Malaria also accounts for as much as one third of all cases of preventable low birth weight among newborn children, which is the single greatest risk factor for infant mortality.
Malnutrition can contribute greatly to malaria's impact in women and children by increasing the chances that they will contract the disease because of diminished resistance and by reducing the body's ability to limit the severity and recover. Research conducted over the past five years indicates that supplementation of certain micronutrients such as vitamin A and zinc can greatly limit the impact of malaria in women and children and reduce the chances of contracting the disease through increased resistance.
For children, malaria not only puts their health at considerable risk, it impedes their ability to learn and develop. In affected areas, children develop as many as six bouts of malaria every year on average, resulting in a substantial amount missed of school and diminished learning. In fact, malaria is the single most common cause of school absenteeism.
Overall, the social and economic burden of malaria is great. Because of the frequency and intensity of malaria cases, and the resulting absence and impairment of workers, many countries experience significantly diminished productivity and enormous treatment costs. In countries of sub-Saharan African, where the vast majority of cases occur, malaria diminishes gross domestic product (GDP) by more than 1% and accounts for nearly 10% of all health expenditure. A Harvard study showed that Africa's GDP would be 32% greater if malaria had been eliminated 35 years ago.