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Essay/Term paper: Malaria
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Malaria is regarded as one of the world's deadliest tropical parasitic diseases. It claims more lives than any other communicable disease except tuberculosis. In Africa and other developing countries, it also accounts for millions of dollars in medical costs. Malaria, however, is a curable disease if promptly diagnosed and adequately treated.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by the parasite plasmodium. In recent years, most cases in the U.S. have been in people who have acquired the disease after travelling to tropical and sub-tropical areas. Over 200 million cases worldwide are reported each year.
Estimates of deaths caused by malaria exceed 1 million each year, with the majority being African children. Other groups at risk include pregnant women, foreign travelers, refugees, and laborers entering endemic areas. Malaria is prevalent in over 100 countries around the world, the most of which located in Africa and South America.
Predominance of Malaria
Today, malaria is a public health problem in more than 90 countries. Worldwide prevalence of the disease is estimated to be over 200 million cases each year. More than 90% of all malaria cases arise from sub-Saharan Africa.
The geographical area affected by malaria has shrunk considerably in the past 50 years. Yet measures to control this epidemic are becoming less and less effective. Increased risk of the disease is linked with expansion projects in undeveloped areas, particularly in the Amazon basin and in Southeast Asia.
The rise of malaria is also linked to factors such as global warming, poor health services, political upheavals and armed conflicts. Other causes of this spread include growing resistance of the parasites that cause the disease to new drugs. And with the growing popularity international travel, malaria is now showing up in developed countries. It is also re-emerging in areas where it has previously been under eradicated.
Symptoms of malaria vary depending on the specific type of parasite involved. These symptoms include high fever, chills, sweats, vomiting, and headaches. This would explain why malaria is often misdiagnosed as the flu.
In severe cases the illness can progress to lethargy, respiratory failure, coma and death. If left untreated, the symptoms may persist for weeks or even months. With some types of malaria, relapses may occur for years after treatment.
Malaria symptoms usually appear from 12 to 30 days after infection. Some strains may not cause symptoms for 10 months or even longer.
Areas Stricken with the Disease
Malaria strikes poverty-stricken with the hardest blow. Malaria prevalent areas include some of the world's poorest nations. In Africa, medical costs and related expenses have been estimated at 1-5% gross domestic product.
Farming communities are particularly affected as well. In rural areas, the rainy season is a time of intense agricultural activity, when poor families earn most of their income. When malaria strikes at this time, these families are unable to make a living.
Malaria and Children
Malaria claims the life of a child every 30 seconds. This disease has reached epidemic proportions in many regions of the world, and continues to grow unchecked. Malaria kills 3,000 children under five years of age every day. This rate exceeds the mortality toll from AIDS.
Young African are chronic victims of malaria, suffering an average of six bouts a year. Too often, severely afflicted children die less than 72 hours after developing the symptoms. Of the children who survive, malaria also drains vital nutrients, impairing their physical and intellectual development.
Malaria is also particularly dangerous pregnant women. It causes severe anemia, and is a major factor contributing to maternal deaths in malaria infected areas. Pregnant mothers who have malaria and are HIV-positive are more likely to pass on their HIV status to the unborn child.
The estimated economic costs of malaria are enormous. In affected countries, up to 30% of beds in hospitals are occupied by victims of malaria. In Africa, where malaria reaches a peak at harvest time, a single case of the disease costs an estimated equivalent of 10 working days.
Research indicates that affected families clear only 40 percent of their land for crops compared to healthy families. Knowledge about malaria is markedly low among affected populations. In a recent survey in Ghana, half the respondents did not know that mosquitoes transmit malaria.
Prevention and Cure
Prevention of malaria includes a variety of measures that may protect against infection or against progression of the disease in infected individuals. Initiatives that protect against infection are directed against the mosquito. These measures can be at the individual or household level including protective clothing, repellents and bed nets. Or they may be community programs that include the use of insecticides or environmental management.
Despite growing drug resistance of parasites, malaria is a curable disease. Although only a limited number of drugs exist, if these are used properly and directed to those at greatest risk, malaria infections and casualties can be profoundly reduced.
Disease management through early diagnosis and prompt treatment is a vital step to controlling malaria. It is a basic right of affected populations and needs to be available wherever malaria occurs. Children and pregnant women, on whom malaria has its greatest impact in most parts of the world, are especially important.
When traveling to areas of the world where malaria is common, specific preventive medicine is prescribed depending on which countries will be visited. Mosquito repellents, bed nets, screens and protective clothing are used in many countries to protect against infection from mosquitoes. Health departments assist travelers in determining what precautions are needed.
Drug and Vaccine Development
Drugs designed to treat malaria are available on a very limited basis. Because of increasing resistance to drugs in many parts of the world, adequate treatment of malaria is becoming increasingly difficult. Although a few new drugs have appeared in the last 20 years, they are not economically available to many people who need them.
In the last decade, considerable progress has been made in the search for a malaria vaccine. An effective vaccine would create a powerful addition to malaria control. More than a dozen candidate vaccines are currently in development, some of them in clinical trial. The hope is that an effective vaccine will be available within the next 7-15 years.
A bibliography on the behavioral, social, and economic aspects of malaria and its control. c1978. World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland.
(April 2000). Malaria Foundation International. [On-line]. Available: http://www.malaria.org/
(April 2000). Travel health online. [On-line]. Available: http://www.tripprep.com/travinfo/timala.html
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