Malaria has been a scourge since the inception of human civilization. Eradicating malaria is a challenge – the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded about 228 million cases in 2018 – since it requires two components: removing the environmental conditions that foster the breeding of mosquitoes such as stagnant fresh water, and eradicating the parasite that causes the disease. According to the World Malaria Report 2019, about 94 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, with the rest in Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean regions.
Malaria is a product of a parasite which travels along the human bloodstream to the liver as a way to avoid the immune system of the host, reproducing itself 30,000 times in two days. With such virulence, the parasite leaves the liver through the bloodstream to attack the red blood cells of the host. Malaria can be deadly as it destroys the red blood cells and blocks the capillaries that deliver blood to the brain and other vital organs.
The persistent menace spreading beyond the tropics
Based on research findings from early 2019, the world could be entering a new level of malaria drug resistance. Transmission of malaria from the Plasmodium parasites to humans typically occurs through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. As a result of global warming, temperate zones are now no longer safe from malaria. The widespread rapid diffusion of the disease is having major global economic, political and social ramifications.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, colonial governments have tried to contain and eradicate malaria by clearing mosquito breeding grounds and eliminating the parasite in the human body. It is becoming more difficult to eradicate the disease because the parasites are developing resistance to drugs. As the World Malaria Report 2019 notes, in the Greater Mekong Subregion, which embraces Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and parts of China, the organism has developed partial resistance to artemisinin – the core compound of the best available antimalarial drugs. Hence, despite medical advances, eradicating malaria remains a never-ending battle.