About Malaria

Malaria is a preventable and treatable infectious disease caused by a parasite and transmitted by mosquitoes.  It kills more than one million people each year, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is the leading cause of death for children under five. 

Malaria is a global emergency that affects mostly poor women and children and so it perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty in the developing world. Malaria related-illnesses and deaths cost Africa’s economy US$12 billion per year. 

Malaria can be prevented, diagnosed and treated with a combination of available tools.  However, global estimates indicate that US$4.2 billion is needed each year to fully fund the fight against malaria.

The Damage Statistics

A child dies of malaria every 20 seconds.  There were 247 million cases of malaria in 2006, causing nearly one million deaths, mostly among African children.  One in every five childhood deaths in Africa is caused by the effects of this disease. 

Beyond the human toll, malaria causes economic problems in high-rate areas, decreasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by as much as 1.3% in countries with high levels of transmission.  Over the long-term, these aggregated annual losses have resulted in substantial differences in GDP between countries with and without malaria (particularly in Africa).

Malaria’s health costs include both personal and public expenditures on prevention and treatment.  In some heavy-burden countries, the disease accounts for:

up to 40% of public health expenditures

30% to 50% of inpatient hospital admissions

up to 60% of outpatient health clinic visits.

How is it caused?


Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium which is spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes.  When in the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells. 


About half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, especially those living in lower income countries.

Most cases and deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, South America, the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2006, malaria affected people in 109 countries and territories.

Some people are more at risk than others, they include:

Travellers from malaria-free regions, with little or no immunity, who go to areas with high disease rates.

Non-immune pregnant women are at high risk of malaria.  The illness can result in high rates of miscarriage and cause over 10% of maternal deaths (soaring to a 50% death rate in cases of severe disease) annually.

Semi-immune pregnant women risk severe anaemia and impaired fetal growth even if they show no signs of acute disease. An estimated 200,000 of their infants die annually as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy.

  1. HIV-infected pregnant women are also at increased risk.

Transmission Rates

Malaria transmission rates can differ depending on local factors such as rainfall patterns (mosquitoes breed in wet conditions), the proximity of mosquito breeding sites to people, and types of mosquito species in the area.  Some regions have a fairly constant number of cases throughout the year - these countries are termed "malaria endemic". In other areas there are "malaria seasons" usually coinciding with the rainy season.

Large and devastating epidemics can occur when the mosquito-borne parasite is introduced into areas where people have had little prior contact with the infecting parasite and have little or no immunity to malaria, or when people with low immunity move into areas where malaria cases are constant. These epidemics can be triggered by wet weather conditions and further aggravated by floods or mass population movements driven by conflict.

The Challenge: Problems of Eradication

In many parts of the world, the parasites have developed resistance to a number of anti-malaria medicines and the mosquitoes have developed resistance to pesticides.  This has meant that malaria is becoming increasingly difficult to control across the world. 

Problems with Drug Resistance

Drug resistance to commonly used anti-malarial drugs has spread very rapidly.  In order to stop this happening with anti-malarial drugs, they need to be used in lots of different combinations. Intensive monitoring of drug strength is essential to protect against the spread of resistant malaria strains to other parts of the world.

Problems Controlling the Vector - Mosquitoes

Efforts to control mosquitoes are being strengthened in many areas, but there are significant challenges, including:

increasing mosquito resistance to key insecticides which kill the mosquitoes, especially in Africa;

a lack of alternative, effective insecticides;

changing behaviours of local malaria-bearing mosquitoes, which can result from vector control efforts (as insects move to more hospitable areas).


The first symptoms of malaria are like having the flu and usually appear 10 to 15 days after the mosquito bite. 

You may have:

a headache

aching muscles

tummy ache, diarrhoea and vomiting, especially in children

weakness or lack of energy



A day or so later, your temperature may rise. Some people have malaria attacks with three stages: shivering, hotness, and sweating. You may feel or be sick during the hot phase.

Without treatment malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs. 

Depending on the type of parasite you are infected with, malaria can progress to a more severe form (called complicated malaria). Complications can affect your brain, kidneys, blood and lungs. They can develop within hours or days of your first malaria symptoms and can be fatal within 24 hours.

Symptoms of severe malaria can include:

jaundice - yellow skin and eyeballs

difficulty breathing

feeling light-headed or shaky (symptoms of low blood sugar)

bleeding - eg under the skin (showing as pin pricks or bruises) or from the nose or gums

pale or blueish skin

fast heart beat

fast breathing


loss of consciousness

What to do if I have it?

It is very important to seek medical help if you think you or a member of you family has got malaria.

Because we aren’t medical professionals, we cannot tell you what you can do to treat malaria, apart from going to see a doctor or nurse as soon as you can.

You may find these websites useful in finding out how to treat malaria:  -> projects -> malaria prevention and treatment



Preventing the mosquitoes from entering the house: Female mosquitoes enter the house in the evenings, between 5PM and 10PM, and also early in the morning, between 5AM and 7AM. To prevent their entry, all the doors and windows should be covered during these hours. If possible, it is also important to shut off the toilet, or to keep it outside. 

Preventing the mosquitoes from hiding: Mosquitoes tend to hide in the dark corners and amidst the clothes and other objects left hanging inside. During the night, they come out of their hiding to seek human blood. This should be avoided and all the clothes should be preferably kept folded neatly and in one pile.

Protection from mosquito bites: Personal protection against mosquito bites is a simple yet very effective measure in malaria control. The female mosquito bites human beings from around 6 PM to 7AM with peak activity after midnight. You should take protective measures throughout this period.

Protective Clothing: Protective clothing helps to keep the mosquitoes away. The thicker the material the better so that mosquitoes cannot bite through the material to the skin. Where clothes so that as little skin as possible is left exposed.

Preventing bites

Sleeping inside a mosquito net that's coated with an insecticide (a chemical that kills insects) can help keep mosquitoes away and stop you getting malaria.  Untreated bed nets still form a protective barrier around people using them. You need to make sure that you don’t have any holes in your net – because this will mean the mosquitoes can get through. If you find your net has a hole, you must fix it as soon as possible. Nets should be tucked in under the mattress, making sure that it is not torn and that there are no mosquitoes inside. Nets for use with cots and small beds are available, affording protection for babies whenever they are sleeping.


BUPA (2010). ‘Malaria’. (Last updated March 2010). (Last accessed 21/03/2010).

Malaria Site (2006). ‘Malaria in Children’. (Last updated 14/04/2006). (Last accessed 19/03/2010).


For more information about Malaria, please see our links section.

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