Paris (AFP)- Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly children living in Africa, succumb each year to malaria, an age-old mosquito-borne scourge that worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 627,000 people died of malaria in 2020, the latest year for which figures are available, a 12% increase from 2019.
As World Malaria Day approaches on Monday, AFP looks back on this notorious disease and the excitement around new vaccines.
– Half the world in danger –
Malaria is a threat to half the world’s population.
Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Americas, and Pacific regions such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are all considered at risk.
Roll back the disease
Prior to 2020, the world had made steady progress in the transmission and treatment of malaria, primarily through the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, effective tests and drugs.
Annual cases had fallen by 27% in 2017 compared to the turn of the century and deaths had fallen by more than 50%.
In June 2021, China was certified malaria-free by the WHO, ending a long battle that began in the 1940s when the country reported 30 million cases a year.
China has gone four consecutive years without a single locally sourced case.
– Recoil –
Some 241 million cases of malaria were recorded worldwide in 2020, 14 million more than a year earlier, according to the WHO.
About two-thirds of additional deaths in 2020 were linked to the interruption of malaria prevention, testing and treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many patients have avoided hospitals for fear of contracting the new virus.
big killer in africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is where 95% of all malaria cases and 96% of all deaths occur.
Half of the world’s cases in 2020 were reported in four African countries: Nigeria (31.9% of known cases), DR Congo (13.2%), Tanzania (4.1%) and Mozambique (3.8%).
Very young victims
Children under five are the most vulnerable to malaria.
In 2020, around 80% of the total malaria deaths on the African continent were in this age category.
Five species of parasites
Records of the disease date back to ancient times, with symptoms including fever, headache and muscle aches, followed by cycles of chills, fever and sweating.
Five species of parasites cause malaria in humans, and all are spread through the bites of infected female mosquitoes.
The Plasmodium falciparum parasite is responsible for most deaths.
Several preventative treatments are available that help reduce disease intensity and prevent death as well as reduce transmission.
According to the WHO, the best, especially for P. falciparum malaria, is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).
Preventive treatments are also strongly recommended for pregnant women and infants living in risk areas and travelers to these areas. Insecticide-treated bed nets are also a cheap and effective shield.
In October 2021, the WHO recommended “wide use” of the world’s first malaria vaccine for children in sub-Saharan Africa after reviewing a pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
The RTS,S vaccine, made by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, has significantly reduced infant mortality from the P. falciparum parasite, the most common in Africa.
Other vaccines are on the horizon, including one developed by Britain’s Oxford University, whose Matrix-M vaccine candidate became the first to exceed a WHO 75% efficacy threshold.
© 2022 AFP