Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. It can also spread through blood transfusion though this is rare. Four parasitic species which cause Malaria are P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae. P. falciparum is the deadliest of them, followed by P. vivax.
Symptoms commonly appear 10-15 days after the mosquito bite and are similar to that of the common flu. They include fever, headache, chills and anaemia. In severe cases malaria can cause jaundice, seizures, coma and even death.
Curiously, malaria symptoms can recur after a symptom-free period. The possible reasons for this are parasites surviving in the blood due to inadequate treatment, symptoms reappearing after the parasites are eliminated from the blood but persist in liver cells or reinfection through new parasite.
Africa carries almost all of the global malaria burden. In 2020, Africa was home to 95% of malaria cases and 96% of malaria deaths. Children under 5 accounted for about 80% of all malaria deaths here.
Infants, children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, patients with HIV/AIDS and people with low immunity are at high risk of contracting malaria and developing severe malaria. Malaria in pregnant women is a major cause of stillbirths, infant mortality, miscarriage and low birth weight.
Malaria is dangerous but preventable and curable. The most crucial preventive measures are effective vector control, insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying and preventive chemotherapy where medicines are used to prevent infection and their consequences. In case of infected patients, antimalarial drugs can halt the worst effects of the disease. RTS,S/AS01 vaccine evidently reduces malaria and severe malaria among young children and is the first vaccine against parasitic infection to receive a WHO recommendation for broad use for children.
However, insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and drug-resistant malaria pose a threat. Future treatment policies should be informed by regular monitoring of effects of prevention and cure measures. We have to stay vigilant in our fight against malaria.
Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and death. Prompt diagnosis of suspected malaria leads to timely treatment and helps health providers differentiate between malarial and non-malarial fevers. Diagnosis based simply on symptoms has low specificity and could mean giving out the wrong treatment. Parasite-based diagnosis is comparatively more reliable. It is accomplished through either microscopy or a rapid diagnostic test.
The challenge that malaria poses to healthcare systems everywhere is significant but not unsurmountable. The combined impact of measures like prevention, timely treatment and close surveillance of malaria-related data will save many lives. Here’s to a brighter future!