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Malaria is preventable and treatable yet each year it still causes the deaths of an estimated half a million people, infects around 200 million and puts at risk over 3 billion people in 97 countries.
Malaria eradication is a complex task, targeting some of the poorest rural populations in developing countries where there is little existing infrastructure and often sparse healthcare services.
The Millennium Development Goal (Goal 6, Target 8) set a target to halt the spread of malaria by 2015 and begin to reverse the incidences of the disease. Following concerted action by WHO, governments and many agencies since 2000, the aims were achieved. In total an estimated 6.2 million deaths have been avoided by the malaria prevention measures, including distribution of around one billion insecticide treated mosquito nets in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 has set a further target to reduce incidence and mortality by 90%, eliminate malaria in at least 35 countries and prevent resurgence in all countries that are malaria free.
The mosquitoes that are capable of transmitting the malaria parasite to humans efficiently enough to cause significant illness all belong to the Anopheles genus. There are 41 Anopheles species that effectively transmit malaria. Only the female feeds on blood and can transmit the Plasmodium parasite.
The primary malaria vector species are those from Africa that are strongly anthropophilic, A. gambiae and A. funestus. These are responsible for the vast majority of malaria cases and deaths.
Malaria is treatable, therefore vector control is just one part of a malaria elimination strategy that includes a healthcare programme involving detection, diagnosis and treatment of people.
For more information on healthcare strategy for malaria programmes see the WHO Strategy for malaria elimination in the Greater Mekong Subregion: 2015-2030.
This also describes different strategies used for malaria vector control, depending on whether the programme is at a reduction or elimination phase:
Transmission reduction phase
Malaria in humans is caused by five species of the Plasmodium parasite:
The malaria parasite life cycle involves two host animals, humans and Anopheles mosquitoes. When an infected female mosquito bites a human to feed on blood it injects Plasmodium sporozoites into the human’s bloodstream.
The symptoms of malaria are similar to flu and vary greatly from none at all to very severe, including death. Travellers in a malaria risk area or up to one year after returning home, who become ill with fever or flu-like illness should seek medical attention. The most common symptoms include:
The physical symptoms include:
Severe cases of malaria can include:
For more details of the symptoms of malaria see the CDC malaria pages.
If you are in a malaria risk area, WHO recommends that the main precaution is to prevent mosquito bites between dawn and dusk. Travellers may also need to take malaria prophylaxis medication before, during and after their travel, depending on the areas they will visit. There is currently no widely available vaccine for malaria, although several are under development and trials are being conducted.
The US CDC recommends that travellers make an individual risk assessment to balance the need to take appropriate prevention measures with preventing adverse effects among those who do not need to take them.
This requires assessing the malaria risk in the country, city, region, type of accommodation, season, etc and the individual conditions such as pregnancy.
See the CDC advice for travellers for more information.
There are multiple options available for malaria medication in most countries. The choice will depend on existing medical conditions, medicines being taken, cost and potential side effects.
Anti-malarial drugs should also be bought from accredited pharmacies to ensure you are buying genuine products made to internationally accepted pharmaceutical standards.
See the NHS advice on antimalarial medication for more information.
The WHO has compiled a list of national travel and health websites.
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