Somewhere between a million and a million and a half people die each year from malaria, and some three hundred million people are infected with it worldwide. Once spread across the globe, malaria has now been confined to areas of Africa, Latin America and Asia. In those areas, poor socioeconomic conditions and insufficient health structures have made it difficult to control the spread of the disease. Doctors from the World Health Organization (WHO) believe resistance to the drugs intended to fight malaria has also increased in recent years.
Four-fifths of all cases currently occur in tropical Africa. There the disease accounts for ten to thirty percent of all hospital admissions, and fifteen to twenty-five percent of all deaths of children under the age of five. Malaria is one of the leading causes of infant and juvenile mortality worldwide, as it kills some eight hundred thousand children under the age of five every year. It’s also responsible for a significant number of low birth weight babies and miscarriages. Treatment for each case of malaria costs about what a typical African laborer makes in ten working days; sadly, that’s less than five and a half U.S. dollars. Cheaper drugs can push the cost down to eight cents a day. The total cost of treatment, health care, lost production, and so on works out to about 1.8 million dollars a year. As of 1990, only nine other countries accounted for three-quarters of all malaria cases outside the African continent: Afghanistan, Brazil, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Life Cycle of Malaria
Malaria parasites are spread through female anopheles mosquitoes or human hosts. The mosquitoes get the parasite when feeding on the blood of infected humans. The parasites incubate in the mosquitoes for approximately 14 days. If the mosquito survives the 14 days, the malaria parasite is active and can be passed to a human host. When the parasite enters humans, it grows and multiplies, first in the liver cells and then in the red blood cells. As the parasite multiplies, it invades additional red blood cells and destroys them, and continues the cycle of multiplying and dividing. Of course, when an infected person is bit by a mosquito, the infected blood cells are transferred to the mosquito, where the parasite incubates and then passed onto more people and the process continues.