The Malaria Burden

More than a century after the discovery by Alphonse Laveran of the one-cell plasmodium parasite which causes malaria, it continues to defy the efforts of scientists to deal it a lethal blow, while the affluent part of the world looks on with ever increasing frustration. 50% of the world’s population is at risk of malaria related suffering, severe illness and death, with Africa accounting for 86% of cases. Deaths are now close to one million annually worldwide, and with a child dying of malaria every 30 seconds in Africa, the burden has become intolerable, especially for the countries in Africa where malaria is endemic. The most lethal of the four types of human malaria – Plasmodium falciparum – is common in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is also home to the most efficient, and therefore deadly, species of mosquito, responsible for transmitting malaria.

The severe economic impact on the over 100 countries - among the poorest in the world - where malaria is endemic cannot be underestimated. The investment needed to merely control malaria effectively is beyond their reach. Funding the search for safe, efficacious, affordable vaccines, seen as the viable long term solution is not possible without the affluent part of the world. Added to the above is the loss in economic growth due to illness and premature death, and more indirectly is the huge impact on human resources, i.e. absenteeism in school and permanent neurological damage affecting children’s ability to acquire knowledge, thereby hampering their social development.

Growing political commitment by African leaders is starting to take effect and Country Strategic Plans have been developed in more than half the malaria-endemic countries. However, the number of available insecticidal nets in Africa is still far below the need in most countries, and although the procurement of ant-malaria medicines has increased sharply in recent years, access to treatment is still inadequate.

In the light of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the European Commission and several governmental development agencies have committed themselves to reducing the burden of poverty-related diseases, including malaria, which is on an almost unhindered march in countries where eradication is not feasible.

We in the affluent part of the world have an ethical and moral obligation to turn the tide of malaria. Saving the lives of the most vulnerable group in Africa, the children, will have a direct positive impact on the economic growth of the continent as a whole, thus reducing the need for economic and other forms of aid from donor countries.