Malaria—Threatening Almost Half the World
Now, almost 40 years since it was declared nearly eradicated, malaria poses a serious threat in Afghanistan, Brazil, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and various parts of Africa. “Two children die of the infection every minute," reports the French newspaper Le Figaro. The yearly death toll is two million—far more than are killed by AIDS.
Close to 270 million persons are infected with the malaria parasite, but 2.2 billion are considered to be at risk. “How is it that malaria, once eliminated or largely controlled for 90 percent of the world’s population, now threatens more than 40 per cent of us?" asks Phyllida Brown in New Scientist. The reasons are many.
Deforestation and Colonization: The settlement of mosquito-infested rain-forest areas has stirred an outbreak of malaria in Brazil. “What we had was an invasion of the house of the mosquito," says immunologist Claudio Ribeiro. Settlers, he says, “had no experience with malaria and no resistance to the disease."
Immigration: Job-hunting refugees from Myanmar flock to the gem mines of Borai, a small town in Thailand. “Their constant movement makes malaria control all but impossible," reports Newsweek. Some 10,000 cases of malaria are recorded monthly—just among the miners!
Tourism: Many who visit malaria-infested areas return home infected. Thus, in 1991 some 1,000 cases were diagnosed in the United States and 10,000 in Europe. Annually hundreds of tourists and overseas workers return to Canada infected. In a tragic instance, two children developed a fever soon after the family returned from Africa. The doctor did not suspect malaria. “By the time the parents took them to hospital, it was too late," reports the Toronto Globe and Mail. “They died within hours of each other."
Drug-Resistant Strains: WHO reports that drug-resistant strains of malaria have spread to all of tropical Africa. In Southeast Asia, says Newsweek, “drug resistance is advancing so rapidly that some strains could soon be untreatable."
Lack of Resources: In some places clinics lack the equipment to perform a simple test known as a blood smear. In others a large portion of the health budget is needed for other emergencies, resulting in a shortage of insecticides and medicines. Sometimes it is an issue of profit. “There is no money in tropical diseases," admits New Scientist, “because, by and large, those who are affected cannot afford medicines."