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Malaria’s heavy toll

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The biggest offender is the mosquito, that pesky bug that sucks blood and transmits viruses from person to person

Malaria afflicts over 200 million people in the developing world each year. Picture: File

THE world’s deadliest creature isn’t what you might expect. It isn’t the shark, which on average takes six lives globally a year, or the snake (60 000 deaths), or even the hippo (2 900 deaths). The biggest offender is the mosquito, that pesky bug that sucks blood and transmits viruses from person to person.

Mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of malaria, as well as other life-threatening conditions like dengue and yellow fever.

Today – World Malaria Day – this insect is again under the spotlight for the misery it brings.

With more than 200 million cases of malaria and close to half a million deaths across the world in 2016, malaria remains one of the world’s worst infectious diseases. Africa shoulders the biggest burden in the world – 90% of malaria cases and 92% of malaria deaths occur on the continent.

More than two-thirds of malaria deaths in Africa – 303 000 – occur in children under five. Pregnant women are also at high risk of dying from complications of severe malaria; the disease can cause spontaneous abortions, premature delivery, stillbirth and severe maternal anaemia.

While malaria has been eliminated in at least 26 countries – including Sri Lanka, Cuba, Italy and Japan – it remains a serious challenge. Africa carries a disproportionately high burden of malaria cases. In 2015, 214 millon people across the world were infected with malaria, leading to about
430 000 deaths.

Of these, 90% occurred in Africa, and two countries – Nigeria and the DRC – accounted for over 35% of global malaria deaths.

South Africa saw a frightening peak of 64 622 cases in 2000, but case numbers have dwindled to between 6 000 and 10 000 in recent years.

Globally the number of deaths caused by malaria is dropping, too.

Between 2000 and 2015, malaria deaths fell 62%, translating to 6.8 million lives saved, according to the World Health Organisation.

Africa urgently needs to put measures in place to speed up these advances, and to move towards eliminating the disease.

To this end, funding is key if African countries are going to move closer to eradication. Since 2000, malaria has cost sub-Saharan Africa $300 million each year for case management alone.

Malaria is estimated to cost up to 1.3% of GDP in Africa.

Apart from vaccines and preventive efforts, such as bed nets, to keep the bugs away, mosquito eradication is one of the best ways to curb the spread of deadly infectious diseases.

Malaria has taken a huge toll in terms of human life and economic resources.