Today is World Malaria Day with it’s World Health Organization theme “Ready to Beat Malaria” and the fight against malaria seems to be at a crossroad of sorts in this campaign to control and eliminate the disease. In 2016, 91 countries reported a total of 216 million cases of malaria with 445,000 deaths; two-thirds of those deaths occurring in children under 5 years of age resulting in the death of one young child every two minutes. Even the children who survive their fight with malaria suffer from the disease with malaria contributing greatly to anemia which can affect their growth and development. The burden of disease is also particularly high among pregnant women, those with poor nutrition, those also suffering with HIV, and non-immune populations who are displaced to areas of high malaria prevalence.
The factors affecting this global struggle are numerous and complex. The increased use of bed netting, improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of malaria, improvements in the number of pregnant women receiving preventative malaria treatment , and the use of seasonal preventative treatment in children are all pitted against the difficulties sustaining the global funding that this effort requires, the decreased use of indoor insecticide use, lack of medical evaluation for children with fevers, disruptions of healthcare caused by conflicts in malaria areas, changing climate patterns with changes in the areas where malaria exists, genetic changes in the most serious type of malaria which make diagnosis more difficult, and developing resistance of malaria to medications along with resistance of malaria-carrying mosquitoes to insecticides.
The successes and failures in this battle to eliminate malaria are viewed differently depending on where you work in this struggle. While the numbers are vitally important to world leaders looking toward the elimination of malaria at a global level, they are not so relevant to the everyday efforts of those working in mission hospitals. What you remember there are not the statistics, but the face of every child you cared for running out the hospital door to go home after their malaria was successfully treated, and the face of every mother whose child will not go home.
Dr. Tim Cavanagh