what is the prevention of malaria?
There are many ways in which to prevent malaria. I’ll break them down into three categories: 1) medical prevention, 2) protection from getting mosquito bites and 3) vector control.
1) Medical prevention
Malaria can be prevented using certain medications. Taking drugs to prevent a disease is known as “chemoprophylaxis”, and so these drugs are often referred to as “malaria prophylactics”. There are several different types of malaria prophylactic: the most common ones are chloroquine, a mix of atovaquone and proguanil (marketed as Malarone), mefloquine (marketed as Lariam) and doxycycline. The mode of taking these medications vary (Lariam is taken once a week, for example, whereas the others are usually taken once every day), and they also have different restrictions and side effects. Chloroquine is not effective in areas where local forms of malaria have become resistant, for example, and Lariam is not recommended for people with a history of mental instability, as it is known to cause hallucinations and otherwise impair consciousness. Here on Malaria.com, we are actually currently running a survey on side effects of malaria prophylactic drugs, so if you have ever taken medication to prevent malaria, please take the survey: Malaria Medication Side-effects Survey: Treatment and Prophylaxis
It is worth noting that these drugs have not been tested for long term use, plus they can be expensive if taken for an extended period of time. As such, they may not be appropriate for people living in endemic areas for malaria. However, medication can be useful for preventing malaria in high risk groups, even when they are living in a malaria endemic area. One example is the use of intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) for preventing malaria infection in pregnant women, infants and young children. For more information on this, please see the review article written by Dr Felicia Lester for this website: http://malaria.com/research/malaria-pregnancy-preventive-treatment
2) Protection from getting mosquito bites
This section links in with the more general vector control strategies, which will be discussed below. Since malaria is transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes, preventing mosquito bites is a very effective way of reducing malaria incidence. One of the most popular methods for personal protection, especially in areas where malaria is endemic, is through sleeping under a mosquito bednet. The mesh prevents mosquitoes from being able to fly close to the person sleeping; however, if there are holes in the net, or the person skin is pressed directly against the mesh, the mosquito may still be able to bite them. This is where insecticide-treated bednets come in – they are impregnated with mosquito repellents to stop mosquitoes from biting through the mesh or passing through holes. Newly developed long-lasting insecticide treated bednets (LLINs) are even more effective, in that they don’t require “re-dipping” to maintain the level of repellent in the fibres, and so can protect a person for several years without losing efficacy. These LLINs have been instrumental in reducing cases of severe and fatal malaria, especially among pregnant women and young children, who are often targeted by bednet distributors.
Other methods for preventing mosquito bites include wearing long-sleeved clothing and personal application of mosquito repellent, particular those containing a percentage of DEET, which is a very effective insecticide. These measures should be especially taken in the evening, early morning and at night, which is when the Anopheles mosquitoes that carry malaria are most active.
3) Vector control
Finally, malaria can be prevented from reducing numbers of mosquitoes directly. Some methods target the adult mosquitoes; one such initiative is indoor residual spraying (IRS), whereby the inside of a house is sprayed with an insecticide to kill mosquitoes. Twelve different insecticides are approved by the World Health Organisation for this purpose, though pyrethroids are among the most popular, as they can be used on a variety of surfaces, do not leave a visible stain and can also protect against other insect pests, such as bedbugs.
Other methods for vector control focus on other parts of the mosquito lifecycle. Mosquito larvae require stagnant freshwater for their development, so some projects have worked to eliminate standing water sources, such as unnecessary ditches and puddles, which reduces the amount of habitat available for mosquitoes to lay their eggs and sustain larvae. Other programmes have spread insecticides directly in stagnant water to kill the larvae, or sought to introduce fish or other aquatic organisms, such as copepods, which consume mosquito eggs and larvae. This latter biological control approach is popular because it can also supply an area with fish for local consumption, and doesn’t contaminate water sources with chemicals.