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World Malaria Day 2013

Thursday 25 April 2013 | By Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma

Today, Thursday 25 April 2013, is World Malaria Day. Almost half the world's population - an estimated three billion people - live in areas where malaria is transmitted.

Endemic to 107 countries in the tropics and subtropics, malaria is responsible for over half a million deaths globally every year, with Sub-Saharan Africa the hardest hit.

Most shockingly, despite the fact that malaria is both a preventable and curable disease, most of those deaths occur among African children.

Fatima Brima, 40, and her son Dalla, 7, sit beneath the insecticide treated mosquito net they sleep together beneath at night, provided by Christian Aid partner ADDRO.

Fatima Brima, 40, and her son Dalla, seven, sit beneath their insecticide-treated mosquito net, provided by Christian Aid partner ADDRO.

Malaria and HIV

What many people may not be aware of is exactly how malaria interacts with other infectious diseases, particularly HIV.

Although anyone can get malaria, in parts of the world where both malaria and HIV are widespread, people can easily become infected with both diseases.

This is potentially a very dangerous situation since HIV positive people are far more vulnerable to developing infections or more severe forms of malaria because their weak immune system simply cannot respond to the disease effectively.

Symptoms last much longer than in people who do not carry HIV, and can also have harmful effects on the accelerated progression of HIV.

Malaria while pregnant

It is common knowledge that malaria in pregnant women results in higher rates of miscarriage and low birth weight, as well as causing severe anaemia in the new-born children, which leads to low birth weight, growth retardation and potentially long-term cognitive and developmental impairment.

Imagine if you are also HIV positive.

Pregnant women who are living with HIV are at even further risk, not only because the mother can pass malaria on to her baby, but because the impact of malaria on the placenta actually increases the risk of transmitting HIV to the foetus.

This is why my work now focuses on integrated approaches to community health instead of working on preventing and treating one disease or virus in isolation.

Nets save lives

It is horrifying to me that all this can be stopped, or at least vastly reduced, through the consistent use of simple, cheap insecticide-treated nets and free prevention information.

Sadly of course, people living in poverty - who are more likely to live in areas of high malaria incidence and are often malnourished - usually have little or no access to both.

Much like those who suffer from HIV have limited access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to suppress the HIV virus, or HIV prevention education.

The combination of both diseases, alongside malnourishment, is surely something not many can - or should have to - fight.

Malaria vaccines

Encouragingly, behind the grim statistics there is a glimmer of hope. There has been a definite spike in targeted investment for developing malaria vaccines over the last decade, coupled with a marked increase in prevention interventions such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and awareness raising among those most at risk.

These efforts have resulted in a rapid reduction in malaria deaths, with global mortality rates falling by 25% since 2000, and by 33% in sub-Saharan Africa (WHO).

One research vaccine known as RTS,S/AS01, currently being evaluated in a large clinical trial in seven countries in Africa, is most advanced. Recommendation for use is expected in late 2014, and a recommendation as to whether or not this vaccine should be added to existing global malaria control tools is expected in 2015.

I hope that, by this time next year, we can report some good news on the vaccines.

How you can help

Join our church malaria scheme 

We're looking for at least 100 UK churches to help us to run a life-saving malaria control project in Sierra Leone. By pledging to raise £500 by 1 July 2013, each church will fund the work of one malaria control volunteer for a year. Read more about our church malaria scheme

Or you could make a regular donation - your donation could help more families access the healthcare they desperately need.

 


 

Find out more

Winnie's blog - read Winnie's regular blog about health and development in the Independent. 

Listen to our Podcast - communications officer Antoinette Powell talks about malaria and inequality.  

World Health Organisation (WHO)_website - malaria factsheet.

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  About the author

Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma

Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma is an advocacy and networks officer for the community health and HIV team at Christian Aid. Winnie has also been living with HIV for almost 25 years.