The World Health Organization has declared today World Malaria Day. Why “World Malaria Day”?
World Malaria Day is an opportunity for malaria-free countries to learn about the devastating consequences of the disease and for new donors to join a global partnership against malaria.
World-wide there are about a million deaths yearly from malaria, mostly in young children. Here in the States, we almost never see malaria. That wasn’t always true. When Franklin Roosevelt founded the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933, malaria affected about 30% of the population in the TVA region. With the use of pesticides and drainage of wetlands, malaria was effectively eliminated in the U.S. by 1951. DDT was used extensively—it was sprayed judiciously, on the interior walls of rural houses, and not-so judiciously on breeding grounds. DDT can be a very effective tool to combat malaria. When malarial mosquitoes bite, they then rest on the interior wall of the victim’s house. It takes only a small amount of DDT on the wall to kill these mosquitoes. (DDT later became an environmental disaster when it was used in a non-judicious fashion on crops. For more on the interesting and controversial topic of malaria and DDT, see this).
A very effective and affordable tool to prevent and control malaria is the insecticide-treated bed net. These nets have actually been shown to decrease all-cause mortality where they have been studied.
Malaria is nasty. Healthy adults who contract it often suffer terrible relapsing fevers. But many victims, especially children and pregnant women, suffer much more severe disease, including cerebral malaria, severe hemolytic anemia, liver and kidney failure, and death.
Several years ago, I admitted a businessman to the hospital. He was terribly ill—fevers, jaundice, kidney failure, low blood pressure. He reported having traveled to West Africa on business, and he did not take malarial prophylaxis. He had classic “blackwater fever“. It took all the resources of a modern American intensive care unit to pull him through, and just barely. Imagine the same patient thousands of times over in Africa.
World Malaria Day is an opportunity for those of us in the malaria-free world to learn about how to help stop one of the worlds largest killers of children. Link it, blog it, make some noise.