The World Health Organization’s recent approval of a new malaria vaccine for children in high-risk areas highlights how the disease disproportionately affects youth and young adults.
The renewed focus on the disease also demonstrates how African countries must be at the forefront of health-care investments for malaria and other endemic illnesses.Malaria has been eradicated in many developed countries with temperate climates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the disease persists in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, where the climate is influenced by heat, humidity, and rainfall. These regions encompass Latin America, South and Southeast Asia, and the majority of Africa. According to the CDC, approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria.Malaria is still a leading cause of childhood illness and death in Sub-Saharan Africa, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the WHO.
According to the United Nations, the disease kills more than 260,000 African children under the age of five each year. West Africa has the highest rates, with Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger having the highest rates. Similarly, incidence rates are found in West Africa: Benin, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, followed by the Sub-Saharan African countries of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of malaria cases in the world, far outnumbering North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean combined.
Why are malaria rates higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world? Conflict, political insecurity, and health-care systems incapable of serving a country’s entire population – including in remote rural areas – are all factors. However, the CDC notes that the main malaria-carrying mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, transmits the disease very efficiently in Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, Plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite most commonly found in Africa, is the cause of severe and even fatal malaria cases.
Nonetheless, advocates say African countries are poised to push for a historic public health milestone in the fight to eradicate malaria. According to Yacine Djibo, founder and executive director of the policy nonprofit Speak Up Africa, countries throughout Africa must be the focus of health care research and investments in order to combat malaria and other neglected tropical diseases.
“It took a generation to develop the first-ever malaria vaccine, thanks to political commitment and financial support from many partners,” writes Djibo in The New York Times. “With more investments and effective tools, we can be the generation that finally puts an end to the disease.”
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