Malaria – the Facts
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017, there were just under 220 million cases of malaria worldwide; most were on the African continent. From this, an estimated 435,000 people died, with children under 5 years of age accounting for 61% (266,000) of all malaria deaths worldwide. While great work has been done in the last twenty years to reduce mortality rates, Médecins Sans Frontières highlights that ‘a child in Africa still dies every minute from Malaria.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is caused by a single celled parasite called Plasmodium which is transmitted by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. This mosquito thrives in favourable climates across Africa. In the body, malaria parasites grow and multiply in liver cells and then very quickly in red blood cells causing a variety and range of symptoms. These include fever, shaking chills, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and anaemia. More severe symptoms include pulmonary complications, end organ damage, and coma, all of which can lead to death.
In Uganda, malaria is still the leading cause of death, accounting for over one quarter of all deaths. It is a widespread epidemic covering 95% of the country. Figures from the Ministry of Health show that, at times, malaria is responsible for up to 50 % of hospital visits, 20% of admissions into hospital, and 14% of inpatient deaths. Children under the age of 5 and pregnant women are the most vulnerable due to their low immunity against the disease.
Further, the impact of malaria extends beyond the health realm; it contributes to keeping families and communities in poverty. Mosquito nets, medicines, and travel costs to treatment centres are expenses which many households cannot afford, especially for those already beset by poverty. Studies reveal that while some families can afford one incidence of malaria, by the time they recover financially, malaria strikes again, pushing them into further hardship. Therefore, the little money that may be used to purchase food or pay for school fees and books is directed elsewhere. Government officials in Uganda describe malaria as a ‘disease of poverty and a cause of poverty’.
Mosquito Nets – A Form of Prevention
Mosquito nets are one such way to prevent malaria. In 2018, the Ugandan government concluded its campaign of distributing mosquito nets to the people of Uganda. While, this and other measures have brought about a considerable reduction in malaria-related deaths, there are still many who do not have access to them. Many refugees who live within the refugee settlements in northern Uganda are one such group. At present, this part of Uganda is home to over one million refugees from South Sudan.
What to do?
From the 25th to the 29th of March this year, students across all Jesuit Schools in Ireland are being asked to fund the purchasing of a Long-Lasting Insecticide Mosquito Net (LLIN). The cost is €5. It is during this week in Lent that we will stand with others in the ongoing fight against malaria and seek to help further reduce the impact it has on the lives and communities living in Uganda. It is during this week, that we demonstrate once more that we are, men and women for and with others.