What is the current problem for malaria in Africa?
Malaria is a particularly severe problem in Africa due to a number of reasons. First of all, transmission in many parts of Africa occurs year round, due to favourable conditions for the development of the mosquitoes malaria requires as its vector.
Secondly, the dominant and most widespread species of malaria in Africa is Plasmodium falciparum, which is most fast-acting and deadly form of the disease.
Thirdly, Africa has a very young population; birth rates are high across much of the continent, and in many countries, more than 40% of the population is under 15 years old. Given that young children are are higher risk of malaria than adults, this also increases the burden of malaria in Africa compared to other parts of the world.
Finally, access to health care and malaria control interventions in Africa has been plagued by more general issues of slow development. While national health systems are slowly emerging, many countries are still reliant on foreign aid and NGOs to provide even basic health services.
Even where these organisations can provide health care, they often face challenges such as reaching remote populations without good road access, finding ways to provide medical services without reliable electricity or communications networks and maintaining supply chains of diagnostic tools and crucial medicine.
However, signs of progress are being seen. Long-lasting insecticide treated bednets have been put forward as a key preventative measure against malaria, and to date millions have been distributed to people living in malarial areas in Africa, and particularly to high risk groups such as young children and pregnant women.
Simultaneously, other control initiatives, such as indoor residual spraying, are gaining traction and being deployed in more areas. An emphasis on local capacity building has encouraged community involvement in drug distribution and access to health care initiatives, as well as training local health workers in diagnostic methods in rural areas.
Encouraging reports from groups such as Malaria No More and the Roll Back Malaria consortium suggest that the number of deaths from malaria in Africa last year was the lowest in history, and efforts are underway to reduce that number to zero, worldwide, by the year 2015.