The Numbers of Malaria

9 02 2012

Seems strange now, but malaria used to be considered a cure for neurosyphilis and, in certain young people, a cure for psychiatric disorders. The belief that malaria cured neurosyphilis was so strong that, in the 1920s, a Nobel Prize was awarded to Julius Wagner-Jauregg for the therapy.

Times changed. The therapy fell out of favor and we moved on. Now we consider malaria to be the scourge that it is and the battle to end it is on all fronts.

To better understand the scope of this parasitic disease, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently funded a look at new data and the implementation of new computer modeling which allowed researchers to look at malaria over a thirty-year span.

Findings indicate the death rate from malaria in 2010 was twice as high as we thought. The World Health Organization (WHO) originally estimated 655,000 deaths, but worldwide there were actually 1.24 million deaths from malaria.

This number is a drop from a high of 1.82 million deaths in 2004, so, although the current number is high, the good news is death rates from malaria are falling. It’s hard to look at a number so large and call it anything like good news, but from a public health perspective, it is.

I’ve seen malaria in the form of a convulsing, vomiting, feverish young woman being cared for by her increasingly scared and desperate husband. It is not an infection for which we can take a couple of aspirin and wake up refreshed.

The numbers infected are huge. The CDC estimates there are three to five hundred million cases each year with, as noted above, over a million deaths.

We all know that one person actually can make a difference. Do you want to do something? World Malaria Day is coming up in April. Start now, figure out what you and your friends would like to do, and do it. You can find ideas and resources on World Malaria Day’s website.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of YoHandy



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