World Malaria Day: Controlling the killer disease



World Malaria Day:  Controlling the killer disease
Salome Phelamei

Perhaps, the latest report depicting a steady decline in malaria related deaths signals a good progress in fight against this life-threatening disease, although it continues to pose a serious threat to the human race.

According to the latest WHO estimate, there were about 219 million cases of malaria and 655,000 deaths in 2010. Africa is the most affected continent with about 90% of all malaria deaths occurring there.

However, the malaria mortality rates fell by 26% globally between 2000 and 2010 with the WHO African Region showing a decrease by 33%. An estimated 1.1 million deaths from malaria were averted during this period worldwide.

Founded by the WHO during the 2007 World Health Assembly in May, World Malaria Day is observed on April 25 each year since then.

The theme for this year and the coming years is Invest in the future. Defeat malaria. The day aims to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria prevention and control.

Malaria in India

According to the World Malaria Report 2011, over 70 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population faces the risk of malaria infection, with an estimated 310 million people — one-third of the total — facing the “highest risk”.

While, an estimated one million fresh cases of malaria are reported each year, about 95 percent of the country’s population dwells in malaria-endemic areas.

However, there has been a constant reduction in the number of malaria cases in the country in last five years. Recent government data also shows a decline both in the number of malaria cases and related deaths.

According to National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), over 1.5 million cases of malaria were reported in the country in 2009 and 2010. The figure fell to 1.3 million in 2011 and to 1 million in 2012. Till March 25, 2013, about 72,327 cases have been reported.

Similarly, the number of deaths in the country related to malaria cases also came down, 1,144 in 2009 and 1,018 in 2010 respectively. The mortality rate further decreased to 754 in 2011 and to 506 in 2012. The number of deaths is only 18 till March 25 this year.

Contradicting the government data, a Lancet study published in 2011 stated that malaria actually killed an estimated 46,800 Indians in 2010. According to World Malaria Report 2011, India had over 10 crore suspected malaria cases but only 15.9 lakh could be confirmed in 2010.

New Malaria vaccine?

Scientists at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, claimed to have discovered key antigens and say that the discovery would help in developing a new malaria vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum, one of the species of the parasite that causes malaria in humans.

The study, supported with competitive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Vaccine Grand Challenge Program of the Department of Biotechnology, was published in Infection & Immunity journal of the American Society of Microbiology (ASM).

What is Malaria?

Malaria is an infectious mosquito-borne disease. The disease remains inextricably linked with poverty as the highest malaria mortality rates are being seen in countries that have the highest rates of extreme poverty.

Malaria is preventable and treatable, but the disease can become fatal by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs if not treated promptly.

Causes

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which infects red blood cells. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, called ‘malaria vectors’.

Out of many, four parasites cause malaria in humans:

Plasmodium falciparum

Plasmodium vivax

Plasmodium ovale

Plasmodium malariae

While Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most common, Plasmodium falciparum is the most lethal.

Lately, a fifth species, called Plasmodium Knowlesi, has been found to have caused malaria in humans.

Symptoms

Symptoms of malaria usually develop between 10-15 days with fever, headache, and vomiting after being bitten by the infected mosquito.
In children, one or more of the following symptoms can be seen — severe anaemia, respiratory distress in relation to metabolic acidosis or cerebral malaria.

Preventions

Key preventive measures of malaria include awareness of the risk of disease in high risk zone; individuals should protect themselves against mosquito bites, use of insecticidal nets by people at risk and indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control the vector mosquitoes.

Beside, instant diagnosis and treatment can help avoid complications and death.