Did you know that…
106 countries and territories are at risk of malaria?
Which means 3.4 billion people live at risk every day?
In 2012, there were 207 million cases of clinical malaria worldwide?
And of those cases, 627,000 people died?
Most malaria deaths occur in Africa? In 2010, 91% of malaria-related deaths were in that region. source
Malaria is a disease that has become really important to me lately. Upon moving to Africa, I’ve gotten used to tucking myself into my mosquito net before bed every night and taking my malaria prophylaxis once a day. Thanks to Peace Corps’ care, so far I have avoided contracting malaria, but I know that if I do get sick, Peace Corps has medicine to treat me. But for many of my neighbors, malaria remains a daily struggle. So in honor of World Malaria Month here in PC Rwanda, I wanted to share some information with you about this deadly disease.
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite called plasmodium. Malaria is spread when a female anopheles mosquito bites an infected human. In a simplified explanation, the parasite is then carried inside that mosquito , where it grows and reproduces. Then the infected mosquito bites a healthy person, spreading the plasmodium.
Inside the newly infected person, the plasmodium first hides in the liver, where the parasite continues to develop. During the liver stage, the patient shows no symptoms and is not contagious. Between one to three weeks later, the parasite leaves the liver and enters the bloodstream. Once in the blood, the patient begins to show symptoms and is contagious.
Malaria causes symptoms much like a severe flu: fever, chills, headache, body ache, nausea, and fatigue. Fevers tend to be extremely high and come in waves. At the first sign of fever, the patient should go to the hospital immediately for testing and treatment. Getting treatment early can prevent the malaria from developing into cerebral malaria, often resulting in coma and death. Every day that a patient suffers and does not seek treatment is another day that they can spread malaria to others. Therefore, seeking early treatment is one of the most important ways to prevent malaria.
There are many other ways to prevent malaria. The most effective way to prevent the disease is by sleeping under a mosquito net every night. It is also helpful to remove standing water, leaving the mosquito with no environment in which to lay eggs. Closing doors and windows in the evening can also prevent mosquitoes from entering the home. In areas with high rates of malaria, it is also possible to use Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) which is an insecticide sprayed on the walls of the home.
There are four high-risk groups for malaria. Children under the age of five have not had time to develop immunity to the disease and are therefore at great risk. Pregnant mothers are also at high risk because the parasite can hide in her placenta, causing her baby to have a low birth weight. People living with HIV/AIDS have compromised immune systems and cannot fight malaria effectively. The last high-risk group is non-immune foreigners.
So now that the biology lesson is over, what does all this mean for Rwanda?
Rwanda is a malaria endemic country. The entire population of Rwanda is at risk. Because of great work by the government and outside donors to prevent malaria, rates of malaria decreased dramatically between 2005 and 2011. But because the rates had dropped so low, efforts to prevent malaria started to trickle off. As a result, the next year malaria rates rose almost 300%. That’s why it’s so important to keep the pressure on malaria to keep it from flaring up.
Rwanda’s goal is pre-elimination status by 2017. A country reaches pre-elimination status when it reduces its malaria deaths to zero. Once at pre-elimination, the country must report no malaria deaths for three consecutive years. If the country is successful, they achieve the malaria-free status of elimination.
Peace Corps Rwanda is committed to helping get Rwanda to its pre-elimination status goal. Our STOMP team has been working hard to mobilize volunteers to fight malaria in their villages. You may remember my post about our bike tour back in March to teach Rwandan students about malaria prevention. STOMP also held a Malaria Expo, in which participating PCVs brought a counterpart to a training where everyone learned about malaria and got ideas for projects to implement back at site. PCVs and counterparts also took home great supplies to do murals, carnivals, sports matches, surveys and more. And lastly, STOMP Rwanda is hosting its World Malaria Month competition this month to get people motivated to fight malaria.
My malaria activities from the Expo will be done next weekend at my school, so look for pictures of that event soon! My students are helping me to plan a carnival of 8 games and activities for 100 students on Saturday. The next day we’re planning a soccer match, mosquitoes vs. mosquito nets, and a malaria-themed half-time show. I’m really excited to spend this time with my students teaching them about malaria and having fun. Stay tuned!