Compiled by Nereshnee Govender and Indhrannie Pillay
Over the past ten years, the prevalence of malaria has been escalating, particularly on the African continent. Malaria is ranked as the third most infectious disease threat in Africa, after tuberculosis (TB) and pneumococcal acute respiratory infections.
Africa Malaria Day is observed on 25 April and commemorates Africa’s struggle to fight malaria and marks the seven-year anniversary of the first African Summit on Malaria. It was here that leaders from 44 malaria-affected African nations and founding agencies of the global Roll Back Malaria Partnership gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, to deliberate on the struggle to fight malaria. The summit culminated in the historic signing of the Abuja Declaration, which committed governments to an intensive effort to halve the burden of malaria in Africa by 2010 and mark April 25 as Africa Malaria Day.
"Free Africa from Malaria NOW!" is the slogan for 2007 Africa Malaria Day. It emphasizes that there is no time to waste in the urgent struggle against malaria. The slogan recognizes the tremendous burden of malaria on the lives and economies of those living in countries where malaria is endemic. The slogan is an appeal not only to the urgency but also to the possibility of immediate action. New funding and new technologies are starting to show impressive results, already saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. People with malaria often experience fevers, chills, and flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, malaria can be a fatal disease and may cause the infected person to develop severe complications and even lead to death. Worldwide, an estimated 300 to 500 million clinical cases of malaria occur each year, resulting in an estimated one million deaths annually in Africa alone. This age-old scourge is endemic to more than 90 countries, putting at least 41 percent of the world’s population at risk for malaria infection.
Malaria in Africa accounts for approximately 90% of cases in the world with most deaths occurring in children under the age of five. According to the World Health Organisation, one child in Africa dies from malaria every 30 seconds. Since many of the malaria infected countries are already among the poorer and developing nations, governments cannot contain the disease which causes a great drain on national economies without assistance. Malaria reduces economic growth in African countries up to 1.3 percent each year. Poverty maintains the vicious cycle of malaria deaths and illnesses. People's basic needs such as a healthy water supply, proper sanitation and drainage system are neglected and this makes them vulnerable to contracting the disease.
Solidarity and Commitment
Africa Malaria Day provides an opportunity to show solidarity with the people and countries most affected by malaria, and to reaffirm our collective commitment to the worldwide efforts to reduce malaria incidence, morbidity and mortality. Reducing the burden of malaria will be accomplished only through research, prevention and control. In Africa, many countries will be organizing events and activities in the run up to 25 April and on Africa Malaria Day itself.
Between 1994 and 1996, 14 Sub-Saharan African countries, which were previously free of the disease, recorded a high number of malaria related deaths. It is believed that the recent upsurge of the pandemic is caused by rapidly spreading resistance to anti-malarial drugs, climatic changes, and population movements. Malaria control should be everyone's prerogative. It requires an initiative and partnership by communities and personnel from the education, health and environmental sectors. The use of protective measures can prevent and cure malaria. Bednets, insecticides and anti-malarial drugs are effective tools to fight malaria and can reduce malaria infections. Unfortunately many affected communities do not have access to basic resources and information. People need to be educated about the disease. Malaria prevention programmes should be incorporated into the school curriculum, to increase awareness of the disease among children. The control of malaria needs to be spread throughout communities so that they can live in a safe and clean environment which does not make them susceptible to disease.
Leadership and Partnership
The focus of this year's Africa Malaria Day will be on the need to work in partnership to reverse the progression of malaria and make a significant impact in countries where malaria is endemic. Countries must show leadership in prioritizing malaria and increasing their health budgets. They must demonstrate leadership in managing malaria resources effectively. Community and corporate leadership are also critical in effective implementation, as is the leadership of NGOs and others working at all levels. Partnership is key in overcoming implementation restrictions and ensuring that commodities begin to flow to where they are needed most. Only by working together can we hope to control malaria. With more resources, more coordination and more leadership, we can save and improve the lives of millions.