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