Malaria is a tropical disease caused by parasites and transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. Every year, malaria kills approximately 630,000 people – mostly children under the age of five. About 90% of all malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where a child dies of malaria every minute of the day.
One half of the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria, and approximately 207 million people become infected each year. Six countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, and Cote d’Ivoire) account for an estimated 103 million malaria cases – 47% of the global total – each year. Just two of these countries, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, together account for 40% of the estimated global total.
Control measures such as indoor residual spraying (IRS) with insecticides and insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs), and antimalarial drugs such as artemisinin-combination therapy (ACT) have successfully reduced malaria cases and deaths. But insecticide and drug resistance is a growing threat as these interventions continue to be scaled up.
Malaria doesn’t just cause illness and deaths around the world; it decreases productivity and increases the risk of poverty for the communities and countries affected. For example, infection rates are highest during the rainy season, often resulting in decreased agricultural production. In total, malaria costs sub-Saharan Africa an estimated $12 billion in economic productivity, foreign investment, tourism and trade every year, which economists believe may slow economic growth by up to 1.3% per year.
Malaria also puts a serious strain on public health systems. In heavily affected sub-Saharan African countries, malaria accounts for as much as 40% of public health spending.
Malaria is an entirely preventable and treatable disease. For just $10, a bed net treated with insecticide can be bought and distributed, with training given on how best to use it. Combining bed nets with other simple actions such as spraying homes with insecticides could prevent millions of people from getting sick. For those who do become infected with malaria, treatments costing $2 each are highly effective and can dramatically cut deaths.
Big increases in the resources available to fight malaria have had huge positive health impacts. Initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the World Bank’s Malaria Booster Program have significantly expanded coverage of bed nets and access to treatment. The Global Fund alone has distributed 360 million bed nets.
This support is producing results. Between 2000 and 2012, malaria mortality rates fell by 45% globally and by 49% in Africa. Eight sub-Saharan African countries, as well as Zanzibar in Tanzania, have cut malaria cases by 75% or more. An estimated 500 million fewer malaria cases and 3.3 million fewer deaths occurred in between 2001 and 2012 thanks to this ongoing scale-up in the fight against malaria.
However, increased funding for malaria control and treatment is still needed to build on the progress made in the last few years. In 2012, there was a $2.6 billion funding gap, and between 2011 and 2012, both international and domestic funding for malaria plateaued. The Global Malaria Action Plan (GMAP) was created by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership in 2008 to co-ordinate and catalyse action. It aims to reduce global malaria deaths to near zero, reduce global malaria cases by 75% (from 2000 levels), and eliminate malaria in 10 new countries and in Europe, all by 2015.
A range of new tools and promising malaria vaccines currently in development will also be critical to counter threats like growing insecticide resistance and a drop in external funding for public health. With a coordinated global effort, we can continue to make progress and ensure the virtual elimination of malaria deaths by 2015.