April 25, 2005
Today is Africa Malaria Day. The theme of the day is, “Unite Against Malaria – Together We Can Beat Malaria.” The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are a million deaths each year from Malaria, but Doctors Without Borders (MSF) claims that the death toll is double that. Whatever the figure, it is too many people. Nearly 90% of all deaths, worldwide, due to malaria, occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of these are in the high risk groups of pregnant women and children under the age of 5. In April of 2000, representatives from 44 African countries and 50 organizations gathered in Nigeria and agreed to collectively do something to curb the disease. One of their goals was to halve the deaths due to Malaria by 2010.
At the present time, however, MSF says that drug shortages and other problems are jeopardizing this goal. They claim that many of the medications used to treat malaria are ineffective due to resistant strains of the disease, and that the Swiss company that manufactures the best medication is not making enough. The Swiss Company claims that it cannot get enough of the drug’s main ingredient from suppliers in China. To say that this is a global problem is an understatement.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite. Patients with malaria typically are very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Malaria typically is found in warmer regions of the world -- in tropical and subtropical countries. Higher temperatures allow the Anopheles mosquito to thrive. Malaria parasites, which grow and develop inside mosquitoes, need warmth to complete their growth before they are mature enough to be transmitted to humans. They report that between 300-500 million people are infected with malaria (which they get from being bitten by the infected mosquitoes) each year.
Almost everyone you talk to in Malawi will tell you that they have malaria. One of Dan’s coworkers was recently out of work for a week with malaria. Many NGOs give low cost or free mosquito nets to people in the high risk groups. These nets are treated with insecticide and are one of the best ways to prevent the disease. We sleep under these nets every night, and we made sure that Alfred and his family have nets too. However, two of his small daughters, Ellen (1) and Dauphie (3) were recently admitted to the hospital with malaria. We were very worried, but with proper medical treatment, they recovered.
Obviously, MSF is right in its claim that more needs to be done to reduce and eradicate this disease which is a leading cause of death around the world. When you think of it in terms of governments, money and distribution problems it seems insurmountable, but one child dies in Africa every thirty seconds.
I do not want Dauphie or Ellen to be one of those children.