Today is World Malaria Day, which might have slipped your mind. That's understandable. The United States eradicated malaria in 1951, and unless you've done much traveling it's probably never topped your list of things to worry about. But for half the world's population, the 3.3 billion people threatened by the deadly mosquito-borne illness every day, malaria isn't so easy to forget.
Malaria symptoms include fever, headache, chills, vomiting, anemia and respiratory distress. Children infected with the disease are extremely vulnerable because they haven't had time to develop any level of immunity.
Malaria is a mean disease that preys on the poor and the innocent. In 2010, 90 percent of all malaria deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, the region of our planet that's home to the highest proportion of undernourished people. Poor people with limited resources and limited access to health care often can't afford housing with screened windows and doors to protect them from infected mosquitoes. And once infected, people suffering from malaria lose work days and the paychecks that go along with them, deepening their poverty. This is a handicap faced by countless Heifer project participants who can find themselves incapacitated by malaria multiple times each year.
Most deaths from malaria claim children under the age of 5. That means that every single minute of the day, a child dies of malaria. Pregnant women also face heightened risk.These numbers will knock the breath out of you, but luckily they're better than they used to be. Malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25 percent since 2000. And with continued use of mosquito nets and insecticides, the hope is that the disease will continue to loosen its grasp.
The theme for World Malaria Day 2013 is "Invest in the future. Defeat malaria." The disease still kills 660,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. But not everyone agrees on the numbers, and in fact, the Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation puts the death toll at 1.2 million per year. I know that number will be stuck in my head for a while.
Happily, we know that bed nets, insecticides and improved housing can slow or stop the spread of malaria. We also know how to treat it. It's just a question of resources. If, after reading this, you're having a hard time getting malaria off your mind, visit the WHO's World Malaria Day 2013 website to learn more.