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Malaria 101

Today, April 25, is World Malaria Day. You might not be all that familiar with malaria. After all, the disease was stamped out in the United States by 1951. But malaria remains a massive”and deadly”problem in most tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Every year, malaria kills approximately 1 million people. Ninety percent of those killed live in sub-Saharan Africa. And most are children under the age of five.


bednets1a-UNI47344.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0589/Giacomo Pirozzi
A mural in Liberia shows two families in bed, one being attacked by mosquitoes, the other beneath an insecticide-treated bed net.

When malaria doesn’t kill, it leaves an awful legacy of illness. Malaria symptoms include fever, shivering, severe pain in the joints, headaches, vomiting, generalized convulsions and extreme sweating. I have a vivid memory of meeting a man in Thailand years ago who was suffering from a recurrence of malaria. His clothes”and a beach towel he kept on his shoulders”were completely saturated with his sweat, which drip drip dripped onto the floor below him. People who have had malaria suffer repeated episodes of fever and anemia, which can”especially in children”hamper mental and physical development. It is a miserable, debilitating disease.

Today, April 25, is World Malaria Day. You might not be all that familiar with malaria. After all, the disease was stamped out in the United States by 1951. But malaria remains a massive”and deadly”problem in most tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Every year, malaria kills approximately 1 million people. Ninety percent of those killed live in sub-Saharan Africa. And most are children under the age of five.


bednets1a-UNI47344.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0589/Giacomo Pirozzi
A mural in Liberia shows two families in bed, one being attacked by mosquitoes, the other beneath an insecticide-treated bed net.

When malaria doesn’t kill, it leaves an awful legacy of illness. Malaria symptoms include fever, shivering, severe pain in the joints, headaches, vomiting, generalized convulsions and extreme sweating. I have a vivid memory of meeting a man in Thailand years ago who was suffering from a recurrence of malaria. His clothes”and a beach towel he kept on his shoulders”were completely saturated with his sweat, which drip drip dripped onto the floor below him. People who have had malaria suffer repeated episodes of fever and anemia, which can”especially in children”hamper mental and physical development. It is a miserable, debilitating disease.

But there are ways to fight it. Malaria is caused by nasty little parasites that are carried from human to human by female mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus when they bite and draw blood. As it happens, female Anopheles mosquitoes prefer to do their dining at night. And this enables us to use a very simple but powerful weapon against their treacherous bites: insecticide-treated bed nets. By blocking mosquitoes’ ability to bite, these nets can reduce overall under-five mortality rates by about 20 percent in malaria-endemic areas. And malaria rates are dropping.


bednets2a-UNI42346.jpg
© UNICEF/NYHQ2005-1286/Indrias Getachew
A girl rests under an insecticide-treated mosquito net in the village of Karo Duss, Ethiopia.

UNICEF has been going all out to get bed nets to children and their families in at-risk areas. The number of nets procured by UNICEF today is 20 times greater than in 2000. In fact, UNICEF is the world’s largest global buyer and distributor of insecticide-treated bed nets“in 2008 alone, we procured 20 million of them.

Combined with other interventions, like drug treatment and accurate testing for early diagnosis, these nets have the power to make a huge difference in eliminating malaria. It is one of those preventable diseases that we can”with enough effort and support”wipe off the face of the Earth. You can help by purchasing bed nets through our inspired gifts program. Or by donating money that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous grant from our friends, Malaria No More. You can also help by telling your friends, family, co-workers, etc. about World Malaria Day. Tell them about bed nets! It’s a great story. Pass it along.

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