April 23, 2010

What is malaria?
Malaria is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. ‘Falciparum malaria’ is the form that can lead to severe malaria and that can be potentially deadly if left untreated. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, headaches and repeated vomiting. In severe cases, this can be followed by internal bleeding, kidney and liver failure.

How many people are affected?
Malaria infects 300 million people every year and kills up to one million people. It is present in more than 100 countries around the world. Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Children account for 75 percent of all malaria deaths. Pregnant women and small children are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

How do you diagnose malaria?
An accurate diagnosis can be made by either detecting parasites under a microscope, or by using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) which are quick, simple to use, and adaptable for use in remote areas. The use of tests allows the correct and timely treatment of malaria-negative patients, and helps caregivers avoid prescribing ACT to patients who do not need them. The World Health Organization now recommends the systematic use of RDTs before providing treatment. Still, in many countries, malaria diagnoses are based on clinical symptoms alone. MSF uses RDTs or microscopy in all its projects where it treats malaria patients.

How do you treat malaria?
Today, the most effective treatment for malaria is artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). They have low toxicity and few side effects, and they act rapidly against the parasite. All countries in Africa that are endemic with the disease have officially changed their protocols to make ACTs as the standard treatment. However, in many of these places, ACTs are still not readily available to patients. MSF was an early proponent of ACTs, first using it in its projects in Africa in 2001, and even earlier in Southeast Asia. During 2009, MSF treated more than one million people with the disease in 30 different countries.

How do you prevent malaria infections?
Sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets is an effective way to prevent malaria infections. Bed nets protect from mosquito bites and also reduce the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the area. MSF carries out mass distributions of nets in many of its programs in malaria-endemic regions.

Are the necessary tools to fight malaria being used enough?
Nowadays, there are new effective drugs, easy-to-use tests and preventative tools that together can dramatically reduce the number of people dying from malaria. Despite this, many of these tools remain unavailable or inaccessible to many people in malaria-prone countries. Costs associated with seeking help are a major barrier to accessing healthcare. MSF’s experience in countries like Mali and Sierra Leone has shown that free access to healthcare, including necessary diagnostic tools and treatment, can lead to a three-fold increase in the number of patients being effectively treated for malaria. Most importantly, it can also lead to a significant reduction in deaths.

What are the current sources of funds spent on malaria?
This year, major donors will decide how much they will allocate to the Global Fund, a pool of money from donor countries aimed at fighting malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The decision will determine the extent to which the tools to fight malaria can be scaled up in the coming years. The level of domestic funding in malaria prone-countries also constitutes a significant part of the fight against malaria (private households account for one-fifth of total spending).

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