Malaria is the most deadly disease of all time. It has killed over half the human beings who have ever lived!
Malaria is a disease caused by the blood parasite Plasmodium, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. The name malaria comes from the Medieval Italian words mal aria which means “bad air,” since it was usually contracted near swamps and damp places. We now know that’s where mosquitos breed and the air is not to blame. But the name has stuck.
Malaria infects half a billion people each year and between 1 and 3 million die every year (nobody knows for sure just how many). Children are the main victims and African countries bear the brunt. Despite modern medicine and pesticides, the problem seems to be spreading, due to growth in human population.
You may think it has nothing to do with you, living safely in North America or Europe. You would be wrong. Already there are 2,000 cases a year in the US and all are agreed this is grossly under-reported. As the mosquitos march north, due to global warming, malaria will soon be vectored in our society. Be warned.
109 countries are endemic for malaria in 2008, nearly half of those (45) in Africa. In fact more than half of the African cases occurred in just five countries: Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya.
The appalling toll is down to the fact that Africa hosts the most deadly form of the disease, the parasite strain called Plasmodium falciparum. It can tear up the blood so fast that hemoglobin spills over into the urine, darkening it and leading to a usually-fatal variant called “blackwater fever”.
Yet, despite all that, malaria is potentially containable. Treatments tend to be effective if started early enough. Of course really “early” means preventative treatment.
Malaria is mosquito-borne and if you don’t get bitten, you don’t get malaria! So mosquito nets (usually pesticide treated these days) are quite critical in protecting humans from the ravages of this killer. Drugs and chemical sprays are expensive and often beyond the resources poor countries.
Most African countries are still way off meeting the WHO target of 80 percent coverage for the four main treatments — mosquito nets, drugs, indoor insecticide spray and treatment during pregnancy. For example, the survey found that supplies of insecticide-treated nets were only sufficient to protect about a quarter of the people in over 30 African countries.
It’s really a double-whammy because the poor countries mostly remain so because of the disease problem. There is little tourism in deadly regions, known for malaria and the other huge killer parasite, the Trypanosome. In fact I said elsewhere on my website that an area roughly the size of the USA is kept un-farmable due the presence of these killer parasites.
Despite the magnitude of the problem, there is a simple and cost-effective solution to prevent malaria deaths. For just $10, we can purchase a bed net, deliver it to a family, and explain its use. Bed nets work by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when the vast majority of transmissions occur.
A family of four can sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, safe from malaria for up to four years. The benefits of bed nets extend even beyond the family who owns it; the net will knock down many mosquitos in the village surroundings and so help those individuals who do not have nets.
$10 for a bed net sounds cheap but in countries where many of the population survives on less than $1 a day. You could do a lot of good by buying somebody a net every month.
Unfortunately, through ignorance, nets are often misused. Surveys show the people they are supposed to protect are using them for fishing nets, straining fruit and even wedding dresses.
The chemical industry, with its greed and lack of scruples, has tried to profit from the problem of malaria. Millions of tons of DDT were poured into the environment and while it is true this helped for a time, it did not stop the march of mosquitos.
You will still hear claims that Rachel Carson was a meddling fool who got the usage of the “miracle” substance banned. Be sure that these claims are ALWAYS underwritten by the chemical lobby.
Then there were ghastly mistakes like Lariam (mefloquine), which cause such lasting and unpleasant side effects nobody would take it if they knew beforehand what would happen (but the doctors don’t tell you).
The good news is that plant remedies are back, big time. The two best are artemisinin from the Qinghao plant (Artemisia annua, China, 4th century) and quinine from the cinchona tree (South America, 17th century).
The other big step forward has been combination therapies. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the most effective drugs currently available for treating malaria. Unfortunately, these are sophisticated proprietary medicines and way beyond the reach of people who most need them.
In view of the expense (can’t expect the poor Pharma companies to sell them at cost, can we?), ACTs are best reserved for pregnant women. This helps protect pregnant women from possible death and anemia and also prevents malaria-related low birth weight in infants, which causes about 100,000 infant deaths annually in Africa.
Killing Mosquitoes through Indoor Residual Spraying
While bed nets are generally effective in Africa wherever they are consistently used, sometimes specialized teams are organized to spray an insecticide on the inside walls of houses (a process known as Indoor Residual Spraying or IRS). IRS kills female mosquitoes when they rest on sprayed surfaces after feeding on a person, reducing malaria transmission to others. Only female mosquitoes can transmit malaria.
There are still attempts to eliminate or treat mosquito breeding sites with insecticide, despite the fact that historically this has been a failure. Resistance develops very rapidly. Moreover, it damages the environment. All attempts to continue this method are simply driven by chemical company madness, greed and fraud, not by real science.
It doesn’t serve this report to discuss what sprays are used and the relative safety and effectiveness concerns.
What has this got to do with you?
I was coming to that.
Malaria is bad news but it isn’t really a Plasmodium problem, so much as a mosquito problem. Without mosquitos, there would be no malaria, plain and simple. Moreover, malaria isn’t carried by any old mosquito but only certain Anopheles species (there are 3,000 species altogether, only a handful transmit malaria).
Unfortunately, tropical mosquitos are moving north, towards temperate zones and this migration will intensify as global warming steadily deepens. That means the incidence of malaria actually contracted in temperate climes will noticeably increase also.
Add to that the fact we already have some bad mosquito-borne diseases (notably West Nile virus, although it is also carried by birds) and the focus of concern switches to this pest.
You need to learn about mosquitos.
What can be done?
Aside from climate issues and environmental control of pests, which make up the bigger picture, we have the matter of personal actions to take.
If you travel to a malarial zone, do not take chemical prophylaxis, such as Lariam. You may pay for short-term protection (doubtful anyway) with long-term ill health.
Make sure your immune system is up and running well.
Nobody knows why mosquitos will bite some people and leave others virtually untouched. Mosquitos follow our exhaled carbon dioxide trail to find us. Once they have landed, they rely on a number of short range attractants to determine if we are a good feed or not. Folic acid is one chemical that appears to be particularly important. Fragrances from hair sprays, perfumes, deodorants, and soap can cover these chemical cues. Dark colors capture heat and make most people more attractive to mosquitoes. Light colors refract heat and are generally less attractive. Detergents, fabric softeners, perfumes and body odor can counteract the effects of color. Scientists are still trying to understand more.
One point is critical: mosquitos only feed at dawn and dusk. If you are in a mosquito zone, stay indoors for those periods or cover all your arms and legs.
There are no vaccines against malaria. I believe that homeopathy is at least as good as vaccination anyway, and quite safe. My wife Vivien and I lived for 2 years in a malaria zone (Sri Lanka) after taking just one dose of HEEL’s malaria nosode. We had no problems.
I went back on a rescue trip after the 2006 tsunami and worked in a densely infested disaster zone but still took no antimalarials, or homeopathic remedies. I was careful about being bitten (by far the best prophylaxis).
What I was felled by was cholera, not malaria!
One amusing report: after such a long time living with mosquitos, we got so paranoid about dodging them that when we reviewed one of our home movies years later, we still ducked instinctively at the moment a mosquito had flown close to the microphone and left its z-z-z-z-z on our film!
One last tidbit: only the female mosquito bites and spreads malaria. Cherchez la femme, as the French say (where there is trouble, look for the woman!)