Malaria

 

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What Is Malaria? A deadly disease caused by single-celled parasites from the genus Plasmodium and spread by female anopheline mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, chills, headache, vomiting and other severe flu-like symptoms. Severe malaria can lead to brain injury and death if not treated quickly.


Can It Be Eradicated? Not currently. But because malaria parasites infect only humans, eradication is theoretically possible. 


Status: Malaria has been eliminated in the U.S. and many European countries. Control and elimination programs are ongoing in other parts of the world.

Looking to the Future

 

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Malaria is found in about 100 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Eighty-five percent of malaria deaths occur in Africa. A child dies from malaria every minute. 

And while we know a great deal about this disease—and have spent billions of dollars combatting it—eradication remains a distant goal. Most experts agree that current strategies and technologies simply aren’t sufficient to wipe out malaria completely. Although many drug treatments exist, the parasites that cause the disease are constantly evolving resistance to the medications. Similarly, the mosquitoes that carry the parasites can become resistant to insecticides. And while vaccine research has ramped up, a highly effective vaccine is still far off. For now, our most effective tools are bed nets and timely treatment of those with fever, anemia and other symptoms of the disease. But with sufficient global investment in new tools and techniques, many are hopeful that eradication will one day be achieved.

 
 

 

 

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Looking Back

 

As recently as the 1930s, millions of people in the southern U.S. were at risk for malaria infection every year. But beginning in 1947, the newly formed Communicable Disease Center—now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC—began an aggressive campaign to eliminate the disease from the U.S. Thanks mostly to draining swamps, putting screens in windows and spraying the insecticide known as DDT, the U.S. became malaria-free in 1951.

In 1955, the World Health Organization initiated a plan to eradicate malaria globally. Unfortunately, the effort was not successful, as mosquitoes evolved resistance to DDT and the parasites became resistant to the medicines used. Lessons learned from that campaign, however, continue to inform anti-malaria efforts today—including the importance of involving local communities and integrating programs with ongoing public health initiatives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaria Surveillance. Ethiopia, 2006

Health workers in Ethiopia’s Amhara region conduct a house-to-house search to track down cases of malaria while also treating the eye disease trachoma. Surveillance and mapping are critical in any disease elimination program. Workers must know where the infection is before determining how to focus treatment.

The Carter Center/Aryc Mosher

 

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Spraying for Mosquitoes. Greece, 1958
A team sprays insecticide in the Greek countryside in 1958. Malaria was once common throughout southern Europe. In Greece, efforts to eliminate the disease began in 1946; the country was declared malaria-free in 1974.

World Health Organization/Paul Palmer


Targeting the Transmitter

 

What are the world’s most dangerous animals? Some would say mosquitoes, because of their role in spreading human disease. Mosquitoes and other biting insects can serve as “vectors”—organisms that transmit disease-causing agents from one person or animal to another. And of all the mosquito-borne illnesses, malaria is the most deadly, killing more than a half-million people—mostly children—every year. One way to combat malaria is to attack the vectors that carry it.

Bed nets treated with insecticide create a physical barrier against mosquitoes and can kill the insects on contact. Spray insecticides are effective as well—but mosquitoes can become resistant, so safe, new insecticides must constantly be developed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy to Have a Net. Ethiopia, 2007

The Carter Center has helped distribute nearly six million insecticide-treated bed nets in Ethiopia—contributing to a decline in malaria cases of more than 80% between 2006 and 2011. 

The Carter Center/Aryc Mosher

 

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Bed Net Coupon. Nigeria, 2010

More people die from malaria in Nigeria than in any other country in the world. In 2010, the Nigerian government launched a campaign to provide bed nets to every household in the nation. This 2010 bed-net coupon entitled a household to two free nets. 

The Carter Center/Frank Richards


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Transporting Bed Nets. Ethiopia, 2007

It takes intense effort and coordination to deliver millions of bed nets. These bundles of nets—manufactured in Vietnam—were transported by boat to the coast of Djibouti, then by truck, donkey and even camel to Ethiopia’s remote districts.

The Carter Center/Louise Gubb


Hope for the Future

 

Malaria cases have fallen by 25% worldwide since the year 2000. Bed nets and insecticides have a lot to do with this trend; improvements in diagnosis and treatment are also a big part of the success. New diagnostic tests can identify the presence of malaria in a matter of minutes. And artemisinin-based combination drug therapies blend the effects of different medications to counter the parasite’s growing drug resistance.

Development of new interventions may lead to even greater success in the future. Researchers are making progress on new vaccines, better diagnostics, and improved insecticides. Scientists are also exploring more innovative approaches, like genetically engineered mosquitoes that will no longer be able to transmit the parasite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only malaria vaccine currently available is known as RTS,S. Although RTS,S will not stop all cases of the disease, it could become a key piece of an integrated malaria control effort. Dozens of other vaccines are in various stages of development.

Darby Communications/John-Michael Mass

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Distributing Drug Treatments. Kenya, 2010

A combination of artemisinin-based therapies (derived from the plant Artemisia annua) are most frequently used today to combat malaria; in 2015, Dr. Youyou Tu received a Nobel Prize for her discovery of artemisinin. Unfortunately, some strains of Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly of malaria parasites, are beginning to show signs of resistance to the drug.

IMCOM/Rick Scavetta


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Testing for Malaria. Cambodia, 2005

Health worker Tek Phon shows how to use a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) to check for malaria. A fast and easy alternative to microscopic analysis, RDTs are ideal for field settings. The sooner workers can determine who is infected, the sooner they can administer life-saving medicine.  

World Health Organization/Stephenie Hollyman