Vector Control, Saving Lives

How Malaria works

Malaria is a life threatening disease caused by a single cell parasite and transmitted from person to person by the bite of a female mosquito. Between 300 and 500 million people become acutely ill and more than one million people die each year from malaria. Some 90 percent of deaths occur in sub Saharan Africa, especially in children under five, where it kills more than any other single infection. This equates to one child dying every 30 seconds. Children who survive severe malaria may suffer from brain damage, learning difficulties or paralysis. Pregnant women and their unborn offspring are also particularly at risk from malaria which is a major cause of infant death, low birth weight and maternal anaemia.

The single cell parasite, plasmodium, has four variants which cause malaria in humans. The most deadly, plasmodium falciparum, is most common in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is passed from person to person by female anopheles mosquitoes which bite humans to obtain blood. The insect bites an infected person and the parasite enters the insect where it multiplies and develops. After a period of a few days, the parasite is reinjected into another human through the saliva produced by the biting mosquito.

The disease was eradicated in developed countries many years ago but it continues to pose one of the biggest threats to health in the developing world, threatening some 40 percent of the global population who are living in the world's poorest countries. Nicknamed 'the disease that keeps poor people poor', It has also been identified as one of the top four causes of poverty. In areas where malaria is a constant threat, mosquito nets and medical interventions take money away from reinvestment in agriculture, absences from work as a direct or indirect result of malaria further reduce income and children miss out on opportunities to learn. It is estimated that some sub Saharan African countries spend nearly half their health budgets on malaria treatment and prevention, leading to a total economic burden of malaria in Africa alone which is estimated at some US$12 billion per year.