About the Author: Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer serves as Coordinator of the U.S. Global Malaria Programs.
Each year 300-500 million people suffer from malaria with children and pregnant women at greatest risk from this devastating, ancient disease. Ninety percent of these deaths are among children in impoverished areas of rural Africa. While malaria has been all but forgotten in the United States, it remains the leading cause of death for children under 5 in Africa, killing approximately 1 million people a year.
A son of missionaries, I grew up in Asia where malaria was a fact of life. Do you know or remember that malaria was prevalent in the United States until the 1950’s? Foreign diplomats to the United States who lived in Washington received hardship pay because of malaria along the Potomac. It was eradicated in the U.S. and other developed countries in the 1950’s and 1960’s due to very concerted and aggressive efforts by governments to eradicate the disease thru the use of insecticide sprays and other prevention and treatment methods. These efforts were not supported in Africa, and malaria has been allowed to fester almost unchecked. It was as though the developed world turned their back on the problem – it didn’t go away. Anopheline mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they carry have proven to be dangerously adaptable to our control methods – mosquitoes have developed resistance to insecticides and parasites have developed resistance to drugs such as chloroquine. Populations in malarial areas had no defense.
Malaria is often referred to as a disease of poverty as it mostly afflicts those who are least able to afford prevention and treatment services. Economic losses due to malaria in Africa are estimated to be about US$12 billion per year. Men and women are kept from work, children from school, and many families are forced to use much of their modest discretionary income to pay for expensive malaria treatments.
On behalf of the American people, the U.S. government has taken extraordinary steps to curb the spread of this preventable and curable disease. In 15 high burden countries in Africa, the U.S. has helped to dramatically scale up highly effective malaria prevention and treatment interventions.
The U.S. reached more than 32 million people with malaria prevention or treatment measures in the past year. Working with host country governments other development partners, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zanzibar have achieved major reductions in the number of people infected with malaria. Declines at the regional and district-level have also been reported from Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. These achievements have been associated with substantially reduced mortality rates of children under the age of five in both Rwanda and Zambia.
The U.S. also supports the Amazon Malaria Initiative (covering the eight countries making up the Amazon Basin of South America) and the Mekong Malaria Program (covering the five countries in the Mekong Region in Southeast Asia), as well as anti-malaria activities in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria.
Widespread distribution of mosquito nets that prevent mosquitoes from biting their intended victims, new and effective drugs to treat malaria, medicines that protect pregnant women and their unborn babies, and spraying insecticides on the inside walls of homes to kill mosquitoes that transmit the disease are all sharply reducing malaria deaths in several African countries. These efforts are bringing newfound hope that malaria is not an intractable problem, and giving children a fighting chance to improve their quality of life and build better futures.
Progress has been dramatic thanks to major contributions from our partners, including host country governments, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund), the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and private sector companies, such as Exxon-Mobil, and NGOs like Malaria No More.
Improving the health of populations, reducing the spread and impact of diseases are not only important in their own right, but they also result in greater productivity, economic growth, and contribute to peace and political stability. Healthier populations are able to pursue education and employment opportunities, making them better-able to contribute to and benefit from economic growth and to participate in community affairs and governance. Addressing global health issues thus not only improves the lives of the people of developing nations but also directly impacts the interests of American citizens.
This is a good news story, and one you can support as well. For as little as $10 you can purchase a mosquito net for a family in Africa. This is a great way to give children a fighting chance to improve their quality of life and build better futures. To find a list of organizations that accept contributions to help in the fight against malaria, please visit our website.
Each year on April 25 the world recognizes World Malaria Day to call attention to the disease and to mobilize action to combat it. I hope that soon we can celebrate the elimination of malaria as a major public health threat.