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

It’s the Mala Aria That Kills You

22 02 2010

Bad air or “mala aria,” as the Italians first called it a few centuries ago, kills over a million people every year—mostly children.

Worldwide, there are about 250 million cases of malaria each year and half of the humans on the planet continue to be at risk of infection.

Symptoms of malaria made the medical texts of ancient China almost 5,000 years ago, and King Tut was most likely helped to his death by malaria.

Malaria certainly has its bona fides as a scourge of humanity.

Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass led the recent studies that found an “…important result of the DNA studies was the discovery of material from Plasmodium falciparum,  the protozoon that causes malaria, in the body of Tutankhamun. Medicinal foodstuffs (i.e., drugs to fight fever and pain) found within the tomb support the team’s contention that the young king suffered from a severe malarial infection.”

After thousands of years, science has won a few battles but the war goes on.

The current goal is to increase access to prevention and protection methods, such as drugs for treatment, protective netting, and indoor spraying, with the hope that this will greatly reduce malaria cases and deaths.

None of this gets to the core problems of that blasted mosquito and the rotten parasite that uses the mosquito as transportation to get to humans. Turns out the parasite doesn’t even hurt the mosquito, as it so obviously does humans.

The hope is that the increased access to prevention/protection can be kept up long enough for scientists to discover ways to eliminate the core problems.

World Malaria Day is 25 April. Buy a net for a kid.  The net is cheap and the child’s life is priceless. Who knows, this child who lives because of the net you buy may grow up to be the scientist who discovers a cure for malaria.

Wouldn’t that be something.