Malaria is an entirely treatable and mostly preventable disease. Less than a century ago it was prevalent across the world, but in high-income countries prevention, monitoring and treatment brought the disease under control and eventually eradicated it. In 1951 the United States hit a milestone by having three years without a single malaria case.
Malaria is a potentially fatal blood disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted to human and animal hosts by the Anopheles mosquito. The human parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is dangerous not only because it digests the red blood cell’s hemoglobin, but also because it changes the adhesive properties of the cell it inhabits. This change in turn causes the cell to stick to the walls of blood vessels. It becomes especially dangerous when the infected blood cells stick to the capillaries in the brain, obstructing blood flow, a condition called cerebral malaria. There are four major strains of malaria, however, Plasmodium vivax is most wide spread across Asia, particularly India; and Plasmodium falciparum is found in mostly tropical regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, and is the most dangerous of the four in terms of both its lethality and morbidity.
Currently, over 3.3 Billion people are at risk of contracting malaria because of where they are geographically situated. However, according to the World Health Organization, countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India are of significant concern. These countries are characterized by high levels of malaria transmission and widespread reports of insecticide resistance.
So why has the world not eradicated it already? There are a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is funding. According to the U.N. the world has contributed only half of what it needs to in order to bring malaria under control. In the last few years, current funding has saved an estimated 1.1 million people, but it is not enough. More than 200 million people suffered from the disease in 2010, and about 655,000 died, the vast majority of them children under age 5.
With more funding for research and development of new insecticide and for distribution of preventative tools, the world has the capacity to eradicate this horrific disease from our psyche. The question is, do we have the will to do so?