World Malaria Day 2019: Here is how Africa is losing the battle against this deadly disease

Africa currently accounts for over 90 per cent of malaria cases worldwide.

A child sick with malaria and from malnutrition lies on a bed in a hospital in Bor March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Malaria is a life-threatening disease transmitted to people through the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Once bitten, the infected person starts to show symptoms like fever, headaches, and chills.

These usually appear during the first 10–15 days after you have been bitten by an infective mosquito. Left untreated, the disease can result in severe anaemia (lack of adequate healthy red blood cells), respiratory distress, multi-organ failure or even cerebral malaria.

Every year, this deadly disease kills over 400,000 people around the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one child dies of malaria every two minutes.

In 2017, there were over 200 million cases of malaria in 87 countries. By the end of the year, there was an estimated number of 435,000 malaria deaths worldwide.

Malaria cases and deaths in Africa

While nearly half of the world's population faces the risk of malaria, the African continent bears the brunt of this disease.

WHO data shows that most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017, 92 per cent of malaria cases and 93 per cent of malaria deaths worldwide were in this region.

Africa is followed by the South-East Asia Region (5% of malaria cases) and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (2%).

African countries accounted for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide in 2017. The top five spots were held by Nigeria (25%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (5%), India (4%) and Uganda (4%).

Nearly 80% of global malaria deaths in 2017 came from 17 countries in Africa and India. The top seven nations with the highest number of malaria deaths in the world are Nigeria (19%), Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Burkina Faso (6%), United Republic of Tanzania (5%), Sierra Leone (4%), Niger (4%) and India (4%). Together, they accounted for 53% of all global malaria deaths.

Is it going to get better for Africa?

There has been a reduction in malaria cases and deaths around the world in recent years. Vox reports that a 2015 study showed a decrease from 800,000 in 2000 to 430,000 in 2015.

It also found that the distribution of insecticide-treated bednets and other prevention methods resulted in the aversion of the 663 million cases of malaria averted in Africa between 2000 and 2015.

According to WHO, Africa has the second largest decline in malaria mortality worldwide - 40 per cent. Despite these gains, health experts have noticed that the progress against malaria could be slowing down.

This has been attributed to many factors including climate change, which is expanding the range of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In his blog post titled, 'These maps could point the way to stopping malaria', Bill Gates wrote, "After more than 15 years of steady progress against the disease, the improvement is slowing down. Funding for malaria has also flatlined. If we simply stick with the same tools and the same strategies, progress will stall, and the disease might make a comeback."

This makes the launch of the world's first malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S), such a big deal. It is being used in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya as part of a large-scale pilot project run by the WHO. It is funded by Gavi; the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Unitaid; and GSK.

The vaccine, also known as Mosquirix, works by training the immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It is the first and only vaccine so far to have proven partial protection against malaria in young children. It prevented approximately 4 in 10 cases of malaria in large-scale clinical trials.

"Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death," Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said. "We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes."

According to the WHO, the vaccine is a "complementary malaria control tool" to be used in addition to bed nets treated with insecticide, spraying indoor areas with insecticides as well as prompt diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

About 10 million vaccine doses have been donated for this pilot programme in Africa.

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