Little things can make a big difference. The mosquito – a tiny insect that spreads one of the most dangerous diseases worldwide – is one example. In fact, it is the even smaller parasites of the genus Plasmodium that live inside the female Anopheles mosquito that cause Malaria.
On 25 April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will be marking World Malaria day. According to the latest WHO estimates, released in December 2015, there were 214 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 438 000 deaths. Yet, in positive news, according to the WHO, between the year 2000 and the year 2015, the number of deaths caused by malaria fell an incredible 60 percent, indicating the positive impact of the myriad of efforts to address this health challenge. During the same period the incidence rate has decreased by 37% globally.
Of course, as is the case with many illnesses, not all regions and populations share the burden of disease equally. In 2015, most of the deaths (90 percent) that occurred happened in the African Region. In South Africa, most malaria cases are recorded in the North near to the borders with Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, whilst the majority of the country remains malaria-free. Thus, malaria is only endemic in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga. The communities in these areas are at the highest risk of infection, particularly in high-risk months in that region, between November and April when it is rainy. To see a map, click here. Although drug-resistant malaria has arisen in other countries in the world, as of 2015 it was not thought to be a problem in South Africa because of the combination of treatments used to cure the disease.
The WHO suggests that infants, children under five years of age, pregnant women, and patients with HIV/AIDS are amongst those populations that are at a considerably higher risk of contracting malaria. South Africa’s population is a young one, with a high HIV infection rate.
It is of concern that South Africa has seen an increase in deaths related to Malaria since 2011. In 2014, a total of 174 deaths were reported, whereas in 2011 only 54 deaths reported. In all of these years the highest number of deaths were recorded in the Limpopo province.
In terms of financing to address the disease, as of 2014, most Government funding went into managing the disease when it occurred, and the provision of insecticides and indoor residual spray (IRS) materials. In addition to this, South Africa addresses the illness artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs), ensuring those that display symptoms are appropriately treated. The symptoms of malaria a flu-like that include high fever, chills, headache and vomiting.
These solutions require work from both provincial Government and community-based organisations in the region. Where community members are able to find multiple sources of support and information, this enables them to protect themselves. In addition, where health-care workers are well trained and supported with human and financial resources, they are most able to provide the best medical care. Through combined efforts, it is possible to reduce the number of malarial deaths to zero.
Click here for more information on World Malaria Day.