is it common to die of malaria? Why? Why not?
Thankfully, these days it is not very common to die from malaria. Out of an estimated 250 million cases of malaria around the world every year, there are only about 700,000 fatalities. However, 700,000 deaths every year is still a lot!
If left undiagnosed and untreated, malaria can progress very rapidly and be a very serious disease. This is particular true of Plasmodium falciparum, a specific type of malaria which is found throughout tropical regions in South America, Africa and Asia.
It is dangerous because it reproduces very rapidly in the body and can cause red blood cells to clog up inside blood vessels in organs, restricted blood flow. When this occurs in blood vessels in the brain, the patient may suffer “cerebral malaria,” which can rapidly lead to loss of consciousness, coma and even death if not treated promptly.
The people most at risk from malaria are children under the age of 5 and pregnant women, and so it is particularly important for these people to seek medical care very quickly if they suspect they have malaria.
On a positive note, deaths from malaria are becoming less common around the world due to a number of factors. First of all, there have been many very successful prevention strategies, for example through distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bednets to at-risk communities living in malaria endemic regions. Indoor residual spraying with insecticides have also drastically reduced the number of mosquitoes in households where this procedure has been carried out, thus reducing transmission. Moreover, improvements to point-of-care diagnostics and other health infrastructures have enabled poor people in developing countries to have access to ways in which their infections can be diagnosed, and then given the appropriate treatment. All of these measures have brought the number of annual deaths down from 1 million just a few years ago to 700,000 today.
The goal is yet more ambitious: organisations such as Malaria No More seek to eliminate deaths from malaria, all over the world, by the year 2015. So, we hope in 2015 we can add to this answer by saying it is now very rare indeed to die from malaria!