By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Why? Because every minute, malaria takes the life of an African child. That’s an important fact to remember as we mark World Malaria Day.
How Malaria Spreads
A parasitic illness spread by female Anopheles mosquitos, malaria is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in Africa. Every year, malaria kills 10,000 women and 200,000 infants worldwide. It’s especially dangerous during a woman’s first and second pregnancies. Infants become vulnerable again at 3 months, when the natural immunity they shared with their mother begins to wane.
Mosquitos bite mainly between dusk and dawn, and they carry four different parasites. The most lethal — and most common — malarial parasite is Plasmodium falciparum. Anopheles mosquitos in Africa have long lifespans and prefer to bite humans rather than animals. As a result, 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, although India also has a significant problem. The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, all countries served by ChildFund, have the highest occurrence rates in the world.
Rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity affect mosquitos, so malaria infections peak during and immediately after rainy seasons. Epidemics occur when climate conditions change or when seasonal workers, immigrants or refugees lacking immunity move into malarial areas.
Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of catching malaria. In endemic areas, adults develop partial immunity through many years of exposure and illness, so most deaths occur in young children. In regions with lower infection rates, a sudden epidemic can decimate the population.
Links to HIV and Poverty
Mozambique and Zambia have high rates of cerebral malaria — which virtually guarantees death — as well as co-infection with HIV. More than 90 percent of their populations are at ongoing risk for malaria, and more than 10 percent have AIDS.
Existing HIV infection increases the risk of malaria and also the severity and complexity of the illness; HIV infection also interferes with the medications used to treat malaria, making death more likely. Malaria also increases the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Malaria is closely linked to poverty: The lower a country’s gross national income, the higher its malaria mortality rate. For children under 5, parasite prevalence is worst in poverty-stricken, rural communities, where lack of access to health facilities, effective diagnostics and treatment options is commonplace. Poor-quality housing offers little protection against mosquitoes, and the cost of insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying with insecticides is challenging for those living on less than $1.25 a day.
To avoid malaria, families need to sleep under insecticide-treated nets nightly, and houses must be sprayed every three to six months. ChildFund is working to combat the spread of malaria in Guinea, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Uganda and Zambia, and you can help by purchasing bed nets for children and families.
On World Malaria Day, let’s strike back against this threat to children.
View a video to hear a mother in Guinea describe how her children’s health has improved with treated bed nets.