Although we may hear a lot about Malaria in the news and realise that it is a problem affecting many people in poorer countries, many of us don’t seem to know what it actually really is and why it is such a wide-spread issue. Malaria is an infectious, parasitic disease that attacks the body’s red blood cells and is usually transmitted through infected female mosquitoes. The disease is characterised by flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, shivering, but can lead to severe complications including the rupturing of the spleen, shock, liver and kidney failure, cerebral malaria inducing coma, and death.
The most frustrating component to this issue, however, is the fact that no one need die from malaria as it is easily prevented and easily treated, yet there are still too many people being affected by the disease. Malaria’s statistics are especially alarming when we consider that 70% of these deaths are from children under the age of 5, the disease is the single largest killer of pregnant women in the world, and that 90% of these deaths are located in sub-Saharan Africa, as reported by the Against Malaria Foundation. This is due to the fact that in 2013, the World Health Organisation found that only around 1 out of 5 affected African children received appropriate treatment for malaria, preventative drugs were not received by 15 million pregnant women, and an estimated 278 million African people did not have insecticide-treated bednets in their homes.
Malaria’s most significant damage lies in its flow-on effects for these African parents, families and communities, and the disease is the single greatest drag on the continent’s already struggling economy. The Against Malaria Foundation estimated that the costs of malaria equate to 12 billion US dollars a year due to losses in productivity and these effects are wide spread, panning across increased healthcare costs, loss of livelihoods, ability to work, increased work and school absenteeism, negative effects on tourism and foreign investment, and its inhibiting effects on crop production. The reason for this is that once effected by the disease, parents and carers become unable to work and earn the income that their families are heavily dependent on, as a result their crops or jobs may suffer and after time their entire livelihoods. In the case of children, this may mean that they are now required to neglect their investments in their educations and instead work to support their families, trapping themselves in the cycle of unskilled labour. Cerebral malaria is also a common complication of malaria and is amongst the leading causes of neurological disability in Africa’s children. The socioeconomic consequences of cerebral malaria are far-reaching and long-term as studies have shown severely impaired school performances and cognitive abilities in children, even after recovery. Poverty and malaria are highly interlinked and evidence suggests that the disease is a cause of poverty and major obstacle to economic development, but also that poverty can increase the risk of contracting malaria as people in need do not have the means to treat or prevent the disease.
So how can we help fix it? The most important thing about the way we approach this problem is that we address the need to provide aid and assistance whilst also preserving autonomy and the sense of community within these affected regions. We must remember the importance of dignity as we keep in mind the potentially debilitating effects of countries becoming dependent on aid without addressing the underlying problem, and seek to help fight malaria through the empowerment of local communities. The work of the World Health Organisation has been pushing this approach, and their community-based malaria treatment has been producing positive results in Ethiopia as over 700 volunteers have been educating and providing malaria medication to the country’s people. Another organisation that has been at the forefront of this battle is the Against Malaria Foundation, and they have worked towards raising funds to go towards the provision of long-lasting insecticide treated nets, one of the easiest and cheapest, but most effective ways of preventing malaria.
Our charity partners have also been doing fantastic work to combat this issue. CARE Australia’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene Project (WASH) has been promoting the education of people in Zimbabwe on the importance of personal and household hygiene in order to reduce illness, and has been teaching its members about how diseases are spread through its community and school health clubs. CARE have additionally been undertaking a similar project in Timor, and have been providing support and training to Community Health Volunteers to support pregnant and breastfeeding women and children to combat the spread of preventable diseases. Caritas Australia have also been doing great work on educating people in countries like Cambodia, and have been holding community awareness-raising sessions on health issues such as malaria, and encouraging good health practices. In addition, they have been working in Papua New Guinea to allow access to laboratory facilities to test for malaria and other diseases.
Individually, we too can make a huge difference in the fight against malaria. For as little as $3, you can provide a long-lasting insecticide treated net which can provide protection for an average of 2 people for 3-4 years. Most significantly, for every $1 million dollars we spend on the fight against malaria, we improve the GDP of Africa by $12 million dollars. This means that for every $1 we spend, we put $12 back into the African economy. Every donation makes a difference and plays its part against eradicating this devastating, yet preventable disease.
Nets can be gifted to those most at risk through CARE Australia at https://caregifts.org.au/shop/malaria-safe-mosquito-nets/, or alternatively, through the Against Malaria Foundation at https://www.againstmalaria.com/Donation.aspx.
Thank you to Ye-seul Park for her research and assistance in writing this blog.