25th April is World Malaria Day. Year after year, this date is set aside to help spread awareness about the disease and to take further steps towards the ultimate goal – achieving the zero Malaria target.
But what is Malaria and how is it spread?
Malaria under the microscope
Malaria is a serious but preventable disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium.1 This parasite is carried by female mosquitos of the genus Anopheles, and infects humans when these insects bite us to feed on our blood. As the mosquito bites a human, the parasite is injected into the bloodstream, resulting in an infection.
There are four different types of Malaria parasite that can infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae.2 Additionally, there is another parasite that is zoonotic – P. knowlesi – so even though it traditionally infects macaques, it can be transferred to humans.
Plasmodium falciparum is considered the deadliest version of the parasite as it is this class of parasite that leads to the most severe cases of Malaria.3
Malaria in the modern day
Interestingly, until the 1920s Malaria was endemic to the United Kingdom.4 However, in the modern world it is now a disease found mostly in tropical and subtropical regions. The African continent is most affected by this disease for a number of reasons, including a high density of mosquitos, a bigger abundance of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, weather conditions that allow for disease transmission year-round and often scarce medical resources. Though affected to a lesser extent, South Asia and South America are also hotspots for these reasons.5
Despite rates declining since the year 2000, Malaria is still highly prevalent across the globe. It’s estimated that there are more than 200 million new cases each year, claiming the lives of over 430,000 individuals.6
The fight for zero Malaria
What makes these figures so upsetting is that Malaria is a preventable, treatable disease. While global efforts continue to progress the fight towards zero Malaria, there’s still much more to be done in order to help this goal become a reality. However, there have been some considerable steps forward in regards to eradicating the disease over the last two decades. Six countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion have seen a 97% decrease in Malaria cases since the year 2000. Plus, deaths were reduced by 99% in the same period of time.7
These figures prove that this is a battle worth fighting, and that with proper resources and knowledge of the disease, communities can effectively defend against it.
Better understanding can change the world
Although Malaria has ceased to be a threat in the UK, this doesn’t mean that it’s a disease unworthy of our attention. With better understanding, financial aid and assisting those countries worst hit by this disease, we can make a significant difference.
1 Gov.uk. Malaria: Guidance, Data and Analysis. Link:
https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/malaria-guidance-data-and-analysis#:~:text=Malaria%20is%20a%20serious%20but,subtropical%20regions%20of%20the%20world. [Last accessed March 22].
2 CDC. Malaria. Frequently Asked Questions. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/faqs.html [Last accessed March 22].
3 CDC. Malaria’s Impact Worldwide. Link:
https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/impact.html#:~:text=Malaria%20occurs%20mostly%20in%20poor%2C%20tropical%20and%20subtropical%20areas%20of,is%20responsible%20for%20high%20transmission. [Last accessed March 22].
4 British Journal of General Practice. The Last British Malaria Outbreak. Link: https://bjgp.org/content/70/693/182 [Last accessed March 22].
5 CDC. Malaria’s Impact Worldwide. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/impact.html#:~:text=Malaria%20occurs%20mostly%20in%20poor%2C%20tropical%20and%20subtropical%20areas%20of,is%20responsible%20for%20high%20transmission. [Last accessed March 22].
6 Doctors Without Borders. Malaria. Link: https://msf.org.uk/issues/malaria?gclid=Cj0KCQiA64GRBhCZARIsAHOLriKC2mmhkmP5MplmwjOrgix5AMfH3K43vYSLeHS692_PcFU6yaSDYeQaAr8wEALw_wcB [Last accessed March 22].
7 WHO. Malaria Day 2021. Link: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-malaria-day/world-malaria-day-2021 [Last accessed March 22].