Malaria - A Disease of Poverty

Every year, malaria infects 515 million people and kills 2.7 million. Every day, 2,800 children die of malaria—one child every 45 seconds. Malaria, ranked fifth among the world's top ten worst diseases, accounts for 20 percent of all childhood deaths. The majority of malaria cases and deaths occur among children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The tragedy of malaria is that it is both preventable and curable. The cost of treatment is less than five dollars, pocket change for an American, yet equivalent to more than ten working days for the average African. Malaria is caused by a specific parasite spread only through the bite of a specific species of an infected female mosquito. Malaria is typically avoided by preventing the mosquito's bite (wearing long sleeves at night, sleeping under a net, spraying bug repellant), by preventing the mosquito from breeding (removing stagnant water, spraying insecticide), or with early treatment from antimalarial drugs to stop the parasite’s transmission. There is no malaria vaccination, and the likelihood of there ever being one is slim to none, as there are four very different and complex strands of the parasite, its life cycle is extremely complicated and difficult to stop, and even natural malaria infection does not give lasting immunity. Ultimately, malaria is better prevented by combating poverty rather than the mosquito or parasite itself.

Malaria was aggressively eradicated from the United States in the 1940s through the development of infrastructure in the North and the spraying of insecticide (DDT) in the South. This same aggression has not been used in the developing world. There was some spraying in the 1970s, but the program was unorganized, the infrastructure was insufficient, and mosquitoes started to show some resistance to DDT, due to poor surveillance. Since then, global eradication efforts have been focused on the distribution of anti-malarial drugs and mosquito nets, and the development of a vaccination.

Malaria is a disease of poverty in that it is the product of poverty and it creates poverty. Impoverished families in Africa do not have adequate housing to keep out parasite-infected mosquitoes at night. Malaria puts an economic burden on families to purchase treatment, rather than food, clothing, and other essentials.

Sub-Saharan Africa does not need bed nets and anti-malarial drugs as much as it needs its environment ordered through proper housing and management of mosquito breeding grounds. International response to malaria has been temporary and simple: it is easier to discuss attempts at creating a vaccine than to develop infrastructure across the continent. But more than nets to sleep under or drugs to take, Africa’s people—especially its children—need homes to live in and yards to play in without the threat of preventable and unnecessary death. They need freedom from poverty and a chance at life.

Through healthcare seminars and building projects, our movement has begun to help prevent malaria among our East African cooperatives and their families. Improved sanitation and living standards play an irreplaceable role in malaria prevention. Therefore, we focus our efforts on practical education that empowers malaria's victims to come out of poverty themselves. Together we will clean up the land and create appropriate structures that promote human life for present and future generations.