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On World Malaria Day, How Close Are We To Eradicating The Disease?
April 24, 2014
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(Photo: AP Photo/CDC, University of Notre Dame, James Gathany)

April 25 is World Malaria Day. It's a chance to raise awareness about the disease — which remains one of the deadliest in the world, despite being preventable — and to advocate for support for those affected by it.

So what is malaria, exactly? It's a disease that's transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes, which introduce parasites into the body. The parasites infect the liver, causing fever, nausea and intense headaches and, if not treated, can be fatal.

In many parts of the world, malaria is no longer a threat. It is both preventable and curable, where resources and knowledge exist to make that possible. Western Europe eliminated the disease in the 1930s, and in North America it was eliminated by the 1950s. But it remains rampant in the global south, often in places where there is extreme poverty.  According to the World Health Organization, malaria is active in at least 97 countries around the world, and more than 200 million cases are diagnosed annually. Of those cases, about 627,000 people die from the disease every year, mostly children under five in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is most prevalent and resources spread thinnest. 

The priority for international organizations and governments around the world is the complete eradication of malaria. It's a lofty goal, but one that is considered possible, and indeed necessary. 

Worldwide, Malaria death rates are actually on the decline. Since 2000, global mortality rates have fallen 42 per cent. And 52 countries around the world are on track to reduce malaria cases by 75 per cent by 2015 — the target set by the World Health Assembly. These numbers coincide with increased international funding, which has gone up at least 10-fold in the past 10 years.  

One of the biggest NGOs to take on malaria is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses a lot of its attention on the elimination of the disease. So far, they have committed $2 billion to the cause. Most of their efforts are focused on research into preventative measures, including the development of a vaccine. Currently, there is no vaccine available, which makes fighting the disease especially difficult. 

There are also a host of scientists and companies looking into creative ways of repelling mosquitoes. The Seattle Times has a fascinating roundup of many of them — and an explanation as to why some of these solutions are still a ways off. 

But there are also simpler (and cheaper) ways of preventing malaria, which can help to reduce deaths caused by the disease. The most prevalent — and most effective — is to prevent mosquito bites with insecticidal bed nets. Plan Canada is a major proponent of this solution. They've organized the Spread the Net campaign every year since 2007, and have distributed more than 500,000 bed nets since then.   

This year, CBC's Rick Mercer is working with Plan International to raise funds and deliver bed nets to those in need. You can watch his video for World Malaria Day below:

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