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The Malaria Epidemic

  • Malaria, one of the world’s most common and serious tropical diseases, is a protozoal infection transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.[1]
  • Each year, malaria causes at least one million deaths and an additional 300 to 500 million clinical cases, the majority of which occur in the world’s poorest countries.
  • More than 41% of the world’s population is at risk of acquiring malaria, and the proportion increases yearly due to deteriorating health systems, growing drug and insecticide resistance, climate change, and war.
  • High-risk groups include children, pregnant women, travelers, refugees, displaced persons, and labourers entering endemic areas.[2]

Impact by Region

  • Malaria is prevalent in a total of 105 countries and territories: 45 countries in WHO’s African Region, 21 in WHO’s Americas Region, 6 in WHO’s European Region, 14 in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, 9 in WHO’s South East Asia Region, and 10 in WHO’s Western Pacific Region.[3]
  • 90% of malaria deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Approximately 3,000 people die from malaria each day in this region, most of them children.[4]
  • Approximately six percent of malaria cases occur in Southern and Southeast Asia, Mexico, Brazil, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central and South America, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands.

Social, Economic, and Development Impact

  • Malaria increases poverty by significantly reducing productivity and social stability.  
  • Rural and poor populations carry the overwhelming burden of malaria because access to effective treatment is extremely limited.  In rural areas, the infection rates are highest during the rainy season—a time of intense agricultural activity. Research indicates that families affected by malaria clear 60% less crops than other families. [5]
  • According to 1997 estimates, the total direct and indirect costs of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa exceed $2 billion.[6]

Prevention and Care

  • Prompt and effective treatment of malaria, which can reduce death rates by 50%, should be included in routine child and maternal health care.  
  • Insecticide spraying, bednets, and other cost-effective measures can help prevent malaria.  Today only two percent of children in Africa sleep under a bednet treated with insecticide.
  • In some areas, malaria parasites have developed resistance to the cheapest and most common drugs used to treat the disease.  However, resistance to treatment can be delayed by using therapies that combine different medications.
  • According to the report of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, up to US$2 billion will be needed each year to achieving the goal of halving the burden of malaria by 2010. Currently, only US$600 million is being spent.


1"Malaria Fact Sheet," World Health Organization, October 1998.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

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