The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that between 350 and 500 million people are infected with malaria each year – 90 percent of them living in sub-Saharan Africa.
Living in a malaria-free area doesn't safeguard you against this disease. WHO reports that annually as many as 30 000 visitors to tropical countries are infected as well.
"It is unacceptable that malaria still kills more than 1 million people, mostly children, every year," said UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman in a prepared statement. "Malaria is a curable and preventable disease that can be controlled by increasing the use of mosquito nets and other proven interventions as part of integrated, community-based programmes."
Young children and pregnant women carry the brunt of the malaria burden and the disease accounts for 60 percent of foetal losses and over 10 percent of maternal deaths world wide. It is also a major cause of anaemia, low birth weight and premature birth.
Prevention better than cure
Most malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite at night, and if properly used and maintained, mosquito nets can provide a physical barrier to hungry mosquitoes. If treated with insecticide, the effectiveness of nets is greatly improved, generating a chemical "halo" that extends beyond the net itself.
"This tends to repel or deter mosquitoes from biting, or shorten the mosquito's life span so that she cannot transmit malaria infection," a statement from the WHO read.
Trials of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) have shown that it reduces the death rate in young children by an average of 20%, according to the United Nation's Roll Back Malaria Programme.
What makes ITNs an even more practical tool in the fight against malaria, is the fact that they are inexpensive, easy to use and easy to distribute – as malaria often hits the poor in remote rural areas.
Malaria in South Africa
Although South Africa is not considered a high burden country for malaria, thousands of infections occur within our borders each year. According to the Department of Health's latest statistics more than 12 000 malaria cases occurred in 2006 mainly in the north-eastern provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal.
Travellers to tropical and sub-tropical regions are regularly infected with malaria, and often only show symptoms once they have returned back home.
International Travel and Health (WHO) advise travellers to keep the four principles – the ABCD – of malaria protection in mind when travelling:
- Be aware of the risk, the incubation period, the possibility of delayed onset, and the main symptoms.
- Avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, especially between dusk and dawn.
- Take anti-malarial drugs (Chemoprophylaxis) when appropriate, to prevent infection from developing into clinical disease.
- Immediately seek diagnosis and treatment if a fever develops one week or more after entering an area where there is a malaria risk, and up to 3 months (or, rarely, later) after departure from a risk area.
Malaria is caused by a parasite of the Plasmodium species transmitted from the blood of an infected person and passed to a healthy human by the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito.
There are four species of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium, each causing symptoms that vary in intensity and duration. Plasmodium falciparum is the deadliest of the four human malaria parasites.
Malaria and HIV
Malaria significantly aggravates the condition of HIV-infected people and increases HIV transmission. HIV increases the risk of infection with malaria and decreases response to standard anti-malarial treatment.
How you can help
The well-known explorer, Kingsley Holgate, in association with Nando's and other partners, has undertaken the "One Net One Life" project where Holgate and his team are circumnavigating the African continent to distribute mosquito nets to those at risk of malaria.
A South African bank account has been established to accept funds for malaria nets. The bank account is run under the auspices of Nando's and the funds raised will be deposited into the Kingsley Holgate "One net One Life" account.
The amount of R70 will pay for one net and its distribution in Africa. If you donate R70, or multiples thereof, you can request the GPS coordinates and see exactly where Holgate handed out your net(s) on Google Earth.
For more information visit www.onenetonelife.co.za/ or www.nandos.co.za.
(Wilma Stassen, Health24, May 2008)
Source: World Health Organization