Sunday, July 3, 2011

Key Facts on Malaria

When you think of malaria, you may only know it is transmitted by mosquitoes and can be deadly, but there is far more to understand about malaria - (information from the World Health Organization)

Key facts

  • Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites which are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
  • In 2008, malaria caused nearly one million deaths, mostly among African children.
  • Malaria is preventable and curable.
  • Malaria can decrease gross domestic product by as much as 1.3% in countries with high disease rates.
  • Non-immune travelers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected.

In 2008, there were 247 million cases of malaria and nearly one million deaths – mostly among children living in Africa. In Africa a child dies every 45 seconds of Malaria, the disease accounts for 20% of all childhood deaths.

Malaria is transmitted exclusively through the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. The intensity of transmission depends on factors related to the parasite, the vector, the human host, and the environment.
About 20 different Anopheles species are locally important around the world. All of the important vector species bite at night. They breed in shallow collections of freshwater like puddles, ricefields, and hoofprints. Transmission is more intense in places where the mosquito is relatively long-lived (so that the parasite has time to complete its development inside the mosquito) and where it prefers to bite humans rather than other animals. For example, the long lifespan and strong human-biting habit of the African vector species is the underlying reason why more than 85% of the world's malaria deaths are in Africa.

Who is at risk?

Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2008, malaria was present in 108 countries and territories.
Specific population risk groups include:
  • Young children in stable transmission areas who have not yet developed protective immunity against the most severe forms of the disease. Young children contribute the bulk of malaria deaths worldwide.
  • Non-immune pregnant women are at risk as malaria causes high rates of miscarriage (up to 60% in P. falciparum infection) and maternal death rates of 10–50%.
  • Semi-immune pregnant women in areas of high transmission. Malaria can result in miscarriage and low birth weight, especially during the first and second pregnancies. An estimated 200 000 infants die annually as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy.
  • Semi-immune HIV-infected pregnant women in stable transmission areas are at increased risk of malaria during all pregnancies. Women with malaria infection of the placenta also have a higher risk of passing HIV infection to their newborns.
  • People with HIV/AIDS are at increased risk of malaria disease when infected.
  • International travellers from non-endemic areas are at high risk of malaria and its consequences because they lack immunity.
  • Immigrants from endemic areas and their children living in non-endemic areas and returning to their home countries to visit friends and relatives are similarly at risk because of waning or absent immunity.

Diagnosis and treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and prevents deaths. It also contributes to reducing malaria transmission.
The best available treatment, particularly for P. falciparum malaria, is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).


Vector control is the primary public health intervention for reducing malaria transmission at the community level. It is the only intervention that can reduce malaria transmission from very high levels to close to zero. In high transmission areas, it can reduce child mortality rates and the prevalence of severe anaemia. For individuals personal protection against mosquito bites represents the first line of defence for malaria prevention.
Two forms of vector control are effective in a wide range of circumstances. These are:
  • insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs): Long lasting insecticide impregnated nets (LLINs) are the preferred form of insecticide treated nets for public health distribution programmes. WHO recommends universal vector control coverage, and in most places, the most cost effective way to achieve this is through provision of LLINs, so that everyone in high transmission areas sleeps under a LLIN every night;
  • indoor spraying with residual insecticides: Indoor residual spraying (IRS) with insecticides is the most powerful way to rapidly reduce malaria transmission. Its full potential is realized when at least 80% of houses in targeted areas are sprayed. Indoor spraying is effective for 3–6 months, depending on the insecticide used and the type of surface on which it is sprayed. DDT can be effective for 9–12 months in some cases. Longer-lasting forms of IRS insecticides are under development.
Drugs can also be used to prevent malaria. For travellers, malaria can be prevented through chemoprophylaxis, which suppresses the blood stage of malaria infections, thereby preventing malaria disease.
Malaria disproportionately affects poor people who cannot afford treatment or have limited access to health care, trapping families and communities in a downward spiral of poverty.

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