Human beings have been involved in many colossal battles over time; with each other in great wars and world wars, with the Earth in the many natural disasters â€“ from erupting volcanos to obliterating tsunamis.
But throughout our entire history there has always been the battle with disease and none quite like the never-ending war with malaria.
A Cold-Blooded Killer
Malaria has posed a significant threat to humans globally from way before we were a world of computers and smartphones â€“ from way back when we were just learning to make tools. As Sonia Shah highlights, â€˜the malaria parasite has been responsible for half of all human deaths since the Stone Age.â€™
Although it has now been eradicated in most Western countries, it remains a major killer in developing countries with an estimated 219 million cases worldwide and 660,000 deaths in 2010, concentrated on 14 endemic countries. These facts and figures are particularly worrying â€“ and of global concern â€“ in light that the disease is entirely preventable and treatable.
A sobering fact that might make you think twice about not taking your anti-malarial drugs for that trip into the jungle.
A Never-Ending Story
For years weâ€™ve raged against malaria, yet today weâ€™re find ourselves as a species still strugglingÂ – and losing â€“ against the parasite-borne disease in a long entwined history. But thatâ€™s not to say we havenâ€™t won some minor battles along the way.
In 1947 the National Malarial Eradication Program was developed in the US and successfully rid the country of the disease in four years. Ambitious projects optimistically followed, such as the Global Malaria Eradication Program and Brazilâ€™s campaign to medicate the whole population with anti-malarial drugs.
However, despite worldwide malaria cases dropping from 350 million to just 100 million a year, the fight wasnâ€™t over. Funding for the various campaigns was dropped, resistant strains of mosquito emerged and cases rose steeply once more.
Last century the number of malaria cases rose and fell like a big dipper roller-coaster, and in this century it seems the pattern is continuing; history is repeating itself.
The Current Situation
Our most recent frontline push against the disease – one that is continuing today – began back in 1998. Roll Back Malaria was launched by WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank as a coordinated attack on the disease and as of 2010, was made up of 500 funding partners.
Taking the fight back into these countries, the program is making headway. Endemic countries are being targeted with aggressive malaria control in the form of mosquito nets sprayed with insecticides and anti-malarial medication and in the period between 2000 and 2010 great success was seen. Deaths due to malaria dropped by 26% globally and 33% in the African region, which offers great hope for a future defeat.
However, although malaria deaths are notoriously difficult to count, itâ€™s still pretty obvious that mosquitos, or rather the parasites they are carrying â€“ arenâ€™t getting too worried just yet. Half the worldâ€™s population is still at risk from this potentially fatal disease
Although we can take heart from the successes since in this century, as weâ€™ve seen before, the war certainly isnâ€™t over yet. With continuing research into novel ways and different angles to attack from, the outlook on winning the war sometime in the future is optimistic. The question is how many rises and falls will we see, and how many more lives will be lost before the war is truly over?
Did you realise malaria was still so prevalent or has been such a large part of our history for so long? Share your thoughts below.