Infection from malaria-causing parasites can be fatal
Malaria is caused by one of the five Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. In sub-Saharan Africa the deadliest of these species, the P. falciparum, is the dominant one.
Once a person is infected, symptoms appear in 10–15 days and consist of fever, chills, joint pain and headache. Left untreated, malaria can lead to death within 24 hours. In infections with P. vivax and P. ovale, the parasites can sometimes remain dormant in the liver for up to four years. When they emerge from hibernation, the person can become sick again.
The past 20 years has seen significant progress in tackling malaria
A target of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and of the World Health Organization’s policies, the fight to eliminate malaria has seen impressive global accomplishments in the past 20 years. Mortality rates (deaths per 100,000) were halved in 2015 compared with 2000; incidence (cases per 1,000 people at risk) reduced from 81 in 2000 to 56 in 2019; deaths in children under five years old reduced by 10% in 2020 compared with 2000; and several countries in Asia and the Americas became malaria free. In terms of prevention, 65% of households in sub-Saharan Africa had at least one net treated with insecticide in 2020 (up from 5% in 2000); and the number of children with access to seasonal malaria chemoprevention increased from 0.2 million in 2012 to 33.5 million in 2020.
In 2021, a vaccine for children was announced that would target the deadliest of the parasite species, the P. falciparum. The vaccine can be provided in four doses, from the age of five months. Pilots in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi found that the vaccine was safe, that it showed a 30% reduction in severe, deadly malaria, and that it’s highly cost-effective.