I love magic, making the impossible happen. But, I didn’t realise until recently that “Abracadabra” was first used by physicians in the 3rd century AD in Rome, as a magic formula to ward off malaria. Malaria has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, killing everything in its path. Even today, bats, many birds including penguins, and lizards can develop the disease. Researchers have noted that “nearly all terrestrial vertebrates can be infected with their own species of malaria”. Hence, malaria is considered one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases, estimated to have killed half the people who have ever lived. Pregnant women and children are most vulnerable, with malaria killing one child every 2 minutes. Almost half of the world’s population is at risk of the disease in 91 countries.
Although the mosquito is the one that gets the bad press for causing malaria, it is the parasite that is transmitted by the mosquito that is the cause of so many deaths around the world. Within a human host, a single male and female parasite is all it takes to produce billions of parasites. These parasites are then transferred to other humans when a mosquito bites an infected individual, and then bites an uninfected human. Malaria caused 445,000 deaths in 2016 (mostly children under 5), with a total numbers of malaria cases estimated at 216 million in just one year. At this rate malaria can affect a billion people in just 5 years!
Malaria is a discriminatory disease; it unfairly targets the poorest and most disadvantaged families who have limited access to healthcare facilities, and can barely afford the recommended treatment. Despite the odds though, we humans have come very close to eradicating the single biggest threat to our existence, and conquering a disease that has threatened to wipe us out.
Even since the beginning of this century, we have made significant progress in the fight against malaria, reducing deaths by almost 50%. However, malaria is a clever disease that waits for human weakness to bounce back – and that is starting to happen. In the recent years, we have become complacent, and there has been less focus on malaria politically and strategically, which has resulted in insufficient global funding. Emerging new issues, such as drug and insecticide resistance have added to the complexity of tackling malaria, and we are starting to see an increase again in malaria cases.
Organisations such as Malaria No More UK (MNM UK) are committed to ensuring that the world doesn’t slip back, and we don’t lose the momentum of recent years, because until the disease is eradicated, there is always a threat that malaria will beat us. MNM UK, with the support of the Gates Foundation convened a powerful coalition of partners to organise the Malaria Summit, London 2018, alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April. This meeting secured financial commitments worth over £2.9 billion ($4.1 billion); and a political commitment from the 53 Commonwealth Heads of Government to halving malaria in the Commonwealth over the next five years – saving 650,000 lives and preventing 350 million cases of malaria.
If we continue to build on these commitments, work together as one world, and stay focused until the fight is won, the impossible is within reach! A world free of malaria, within this generation. So, what can you do if you want to get involved in making this magical moment happen? You are already helping, by reading this blog, and gaining an understanding of the urgency of the issue. There are a lot of opportunities for you to share your expertise with the multitude of organisations really making a difference in this world. If you want to know more about the great work done by MNM UK, please sign up to the social media feeds. #ReadyToBeatMalaria www.malarianomore.org.uk
Ambily Banerjee is a GSK Pulse Volunteer with Malaria No More UK.