Malaria, a disease spread to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, infects about 290 million people every year. Data available indicate that about 400,000 people die out of this number of infected persons.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes malaria as “a life-threatening disease” with funding for its control reaching an estimated US$ 3 billion in 2019, a figure which is less than half of what the international health organization needs to fight the disease.
How Does the Global Outlook Look Like?
The latest report on Malaria by the WHO released on November 30, 2020, indicates that globally, there were 229 million cases of malaria in 2019 compared to 228 million cases in 2018. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409,000 in 2019, compared with 411,000 deaths in 2018.
The statistics show that children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2019 they accounted for 67% (274,000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
To break the statistics down, the report further showed that a child under 5 years dies every two minutes as a result of malaria. This means that 30 children under 5 years die of malaria every hour and nearly 750 children under age 5 die daily of malaria.
The African Situation
Africa is still home to a greater share of the world’s malaria statistics. The WHO 2019 report indicates Africa was home to 94% of the total global malaria cases and deaths.
Nigeria alone had the highest number of malaria cases worldwide, accounting for 27% of global cases according to the 2020 World Malaria Report despite the country’s challenge in managing data regarding the disease. The data suggests that about 76% of Nigeria’s population live in high risk transmission areas.
With most cases occurring in Sub-saharan Africa, six countries in the region – Nigeria (23%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), United Republic of Tanzania (5%), Burkina Faso (4%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (4% each) accounted for half of all malaria deaths globally in the 2019 report.
In terms of general malaria cases, Nigeria (27%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (12%), Uganda (5%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (3%) accounted for about 51% of all cases globally.
Even with these alarming figures, the report suggested that the WHO African Region had the largest absolute reduction in malaria deaths, from 533,000 in 2010 to 380,000 in 2018.
The Fight So Far
Aside from ensuring clean surroundings to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and spreading malaria, the fight against the disease has mostly hinged on sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) on a regular basis. According to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleeping under ITNs can help reduce one’s risk of becoming sick with malaria as the contact between mosquitoes and humans are reduced through this physical barrier.
The CDC says ITNs were effective in reducing under 5 deaths from all causes by about 20% in community-wide trials in several African settings.
Currently, antimalarial drugs are also used to prevent and fight malaria.
There is currently no licenced malaria vaccine although progress has been made in the last ten years to manufacture one. While several of them are still in clinical trials, France24 reported on April 23, that a new malaria vaccine made by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute has proven 77 per cent effective in trials on infants. After a clinical trial in Burkina Faso, the new malaria vaccine, Matrix-M, showed no serious adverse effects after a year of administering it.
Although there is RTS, S/AS01 (RTS,S) which is the first vaccine to be developed, the new Matrix-M is the first candidate vaccine for malaria that has surpassed the 75% efficacy as has been set by the World Health Organization.