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Fact sheet N°94 October 2011
• • • • • • Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. In 2009, malaria caused an estimated 781 000 deaths, mostly among African children. Malaria is preventable and curable. Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places. Malaria can decrease gross domestic product by as much as 1.3% in countries with high disease rates. Non-immune travelers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected.
According to the World Malaria Report 2010, there were 225 million cases of malaria and an estimated 781 000 deaths in 2009, a decrease from 233 million cases and 985 000 deaths in 2000. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every 45 seconds of malaria and the disease accounts for approximately 20% of all childhood deaths. Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, called "malaria vectors", which bite mainly between dusk and dawn. There are four types of human malaria: • Plasmodium falciparum • Plasmodium vivax • Plasmodium malariae • Plasmodium ovale. Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most common. Plasmodium falciparum is the most deadly. In recent years, some human cases of malaria have also occurred withPlasmodium knowlesi – a monkey malaria that occurs in certain forested areas of South-East Asia.
Malaria is transmitted exclusively through the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. The intensity of transmission depends on factors related to the parasite, the vector, the human host, and the environment. About 20 different Anopheles species are locally important around the world. All of the important vector species bite at night. Anopheles mosquitoes breed in water and each species has its own breeding preference; for example some prefer shallow collections of fresh water, such as puddles, rice fields, and hoof prints. Transmission is more intense in places where the mosquito lifespan is longer (so that the parasite has time to complete its development inside the mosquito) and where it prefers to bite humans rather than other animals. For example, the long lifespan and strong human-biting habit of the African vector species is the main reason why more than 85% of the world's malaria deaths are in Africa.
or as refugees. Human immunity is another important factor. In 2009. even if the patient has left the malarious area. multi-organ involvement is also frequent. In adults. For this reason. Symptoms Malaria is an acute febrile illness. symptoms appear seven days or more (usually 10–15 days) after the infective mosquito bite. P. The first symptoms – fever. Immunity is developed over years of exposure. transmission is seasonal. In malaria endemic areas. In many places. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Latin America. malaria was present in 108 countries and territories. during all pregnancies. They can also occur when people with low immunity move into areas with intense malaria transmission. These new episodes arise from "dormant" liver forms (absent in P. headache. and while it never gives complete protection. An estimated 200 000 infants die annually as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy. allowing asymptomatic infections to occur. • semi-immune pregnant women in areas of high transmission. respiratory distress in relation to metabolic acidosis. • people with HIV/AIDS. Malaria can result in miscarriage and low birth weight. whereas in areas with less transmission and low immunity. Who is at risk? Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. for instance to find work. most malaria deaths in Africa occur in young children. chills and vomiting – may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. persons may develop partial immunity. vivax and P. • non-immune pregnant women as malaria causes high rates of miscarriage (up to 60% in P. all age groups are at risk. it does reduce the risk that malaria infection will cause severe disease. Malaria epidemics can occur when climate and other conditions suddenly favour transmission in areas where people have little or no immunity to malaria. especially during first and second pregnancies. Asia.malariae). or cerebral malaria. especially among adults in areas of moderate or intense transmission conditions. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness often leading to death. temperature and humidity. with the peak during and just after the rainy season. falciparum and P. • international travellers from non-endemic areas because they lack immunity. If not treated within 24 hours. such as rainfall patterns. and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. • immigrants from endemic areas and their children living in non-endemic areas and returning to their home countries to visit friends and relatives are similarly at risk because of waning or absent immunity. Specific population risk groups include: • young children in stable transmission areas who have not yet developed protective immunity against the most severe forms of the disease. ovale.Transmission also depends on climatic conditions that may affect the number and survival of mosquitoes. Children with severe malaria frequently develop one or more of the following symptoms: severe anaemia. falciparum infection) and maternal death rates of 10–50%. • semi-immune HIV-infected pregnant women in stable transmission areas. clinical relapses may occur weeks to months after the first infection. For both P. . and special treatment – targeted at these liver stages – is mandatory for a complete cure. Women with malaria infection of the placenta also have a higher risk of passing HIV infection to their newborns. In a non-immune individual. However.
Drug resistance Growing resistance to antimalarial medicines has spread very rapidly. WHO recommends coverage for all at-risk persons. When treated with an artemisinin-based monotherapy. WHO recommends the routine monitoring of antimalarial drug resistance. This results in incomplete treatment. Prevention Vector control is the main way to reduce malaria transmission at the community level.Diagnosis and treatment Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and prevents deaths. For individuals personal protection against mosquito bites represents the first line of defence for malaria prevention. DDT can be effective for 9–12 months in . Indoor spraying is effective for 3–6 months. is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). the public health consequences could be dire. WHO recommends that all cases of suspected malaria be confirmed using parasite-based diagnostic testing (either microscopy or rapid diagnostic test) before giving treatment. undermining malaria control efforts. as no alternative antimalarial medicines will be available for at least five years. Insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) Long-lasting insecticide impregnated nets (LLINs) are the preferred form of ITNs for public health distribution programmes. More detailed recommendations are available in the Guidelines for the treatment of malaria. patients may discontinue treatment prematurely following the rapid disappearance of malaria symptoms. It is the only intervention that can reduce malaria transmission from very high levels to close to zero. and supports countries to strengthen their efforts in this important area of work. Results of parasitological confirmation can be available in a few minutes. so that everyone in high transmission areas sleeps under a LLIN every night. Without a second drug given as part of a combination (as is done with an ACT). Such monotherapies are therefore one of the primary forces behind the spread of artemisinin resistance. The best available treatment. It also contributes to reducing malaria transmission. the most cost effective way to achieve this is through provision of LLINs. More comprehensive recommendations are available in the Global Plan for Artemisinin Resistance Containment (GPARC). and such patients still have persistent parasites in their blood. and in most places. If resistance to artemisinins develops and spreads to other large geographical areas. Its full potential is realized when at least 80% of houses in targeted areas are sprayed. falciparum malaria. depending on the insecticide used and the type of surface on which it is sprayed. Treatment solely on the basis of symptoms should only be considered when a parasitological diagnosis is not possible. these resistant parasites survive and can be passed on to a mosquito and then another person. as has happened before with chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP). particularly for P. Indoor spraying with residual insecticides Indoor residual spraying (IRS) with insecticides is the most powerful way to rapidly reduce malaria transmission. Two forms of vector control are effective in a wide range of circumstances.
Currently there is a lack of alternative. and can decrease gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 1. thereby preventing malaria disease. interest in malaria eradication as a long-term goal has re-emerged. these aggregated annual losses have resulted in substantial differences in GDP between countries with and without malaria. Resistance to pyrethroids has emerged. but ultimately failed to achieve its overall goal. • 30% to 50% of inpatient hospital admissions. For travellers. Development of new insecticides for use on nets is a particular priority.3% in countries with high levels of transmission. • up to 60% of outpatient health clinic visits. during the second and third trimesters. The development of new. which are the only class of insecticides used on currently recommended ITNs or LLINs. Over the long term. Economic and health system impact Malaria causes significant economic losses. however. cost-effective and safe insecticides. In recent years. WHO recommends intermittent preventive treatment with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine for pregnant women living in high transmission areas. Vaccines against malaria . Detection of insecticide resistance should be an essential component of all national malaria control efforts to ensure that the most effective vector control methods are being used. Similarly. In some heavy-burden countries. malaria can be prevented through chemoprophylaxis. particularly in Africa. Malaria disproportionately affects poor people who cannot afford treatment or have limited access to health care. launched by WHO in 1955. 3 doses of intermittent preventive treatment with SP is recommended delivered alongside routine vaccinations. trapping families and communities in a downward spiral of poverty. The health costs of malaria include both personal and public expenditures on prevention and treatment. strong national commitments. Drugs can also be used to prevent malaria. Elimination Many countries – especially in temperate and sub-tropical zones – have been successful in eliminating malaria. Longer-lasting forms of IRS insecticides are under development. although so far there have been only one or two cases of obvious control failure. local data on the susceptibility target vectors. alternative insecticides is a high priority.some cases. The global malaria eradication campaign. thus being abandoned less than two decades later in favour of the less ambitious goal of malaria control. currently available tools. and coordinated efforts with partners. Vector control is highly dependent on the use of pyrethroids. but is an expensive and long-term endeavour. was successful in eliminating the disease in some countries. Large-scale use of WHO-recommended strategies. for infants living in high-transmission areas of Africa. especially Africa. The choice of insecticide for IRS should always be informed by recent. the disease accounts for: • up to 40% of public health expenditures. Insecticide resistance Much of the success to date in controlling malaria is due to vector control. will enable more countries – particularly those where malaria transmission is low and unstable – to progress towards malaria elimination. which suppresses the blood stage of malaria infections.
One research vaccine against P. • developing approaches for capacity building. This vaccine is currently being evaluated in a large clinical trial in 7 countries in Africa. . Results will be emerging from this trial in 3 stages. including malaria endemic countries. Final results are expected in 2014 . and surveillance. nongovernmental and community-based organizations. is most advanced. and each set of results will be reviewed by external WHO advisory committees. systems strengthening. falciparum. Other malaria vaccines are at earlier stages of research. • keeping independent score of global progress. and research and academic institutions. It is comprised of over 500 partners. known as RTS. The partnership mobilizes for action and resources and forges consensus among partners. development partners. foundations.There are currently no licensed vaccines against malaria or any other human parasite. • identifying threats to malaria control and elimination as well as new areas for action. which is the global framework to implement coordinated action against malaria. WHO response The WHO Global Malaria Programme is responsible for charting the course for malaria control and elimination through: • forming evidence-based policy and strategy formulation. WHO is also a co-founder and host of the Roll Back Malaria partnership.S/AS01. the private sector. A WHO recommendation for use will depend on the final results from the large clinical trial.
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