Climate Change Fuels Malaria

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Did you know that more than 400,000 people die from malaria every year?

According to the World Health Organization, the number of reported malaria cases has surged by millions since the pandemic!

The report states that an additional 11 million malaria cases were reported in 2020. 2021 saw levels remain somewhat steady before increasing again in 2022. 

Why has the number of cases been fluctuating? Before we take a look, let's understand what malaria is.

What is Malaria?

Malaria is caused by a parasite that infects the female Anopheles mosquito. When the mosquitoes go about their daily routine using human blood as their food, they transmit the parasite to humans. Symptoms of malaria include high fever, chills, headaches, and muscle and joint pain. Luckily, malaria isn’t passed from person to person.

Changing Trends

Beginning in 2000, the number of cases fell over the next two decades by 10 million, despite the growing population.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cases started to fall because of better diagnostic techniques and treatments. The wide distribution of antimalarial drugs to people in affected areas and the spraying of insecticides also helped stem the disease. 

However, cases began to increase when mosquitoes developed resistance to insecticides, and the malaria parasite began to tolerate the antimalarial drugs. Another possible reason for the rise is a lack of access to health care, especially during the pandemic. In addition, many healthcare facilities have been damaged by extreme weather and transportation routes cut off. This leaves no proper treatment for infected people.

The WHO determined that the rise in reported infections is primarily found in five countries: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda. Pakistan experienced catastrophic flooding during the past few years. During this time, reports of malaria increased five times compared to pre-flood levels.

The Role Of Climate Change

As glaciers melt from warm weather conditions, ocean levels rise causing water to encroach into low-lying areas, especially during storms. Warmer weather also increases water temperatures and evaporation, which leads to higher precipitation and severe flooding. 

Standing water on land attracts more mosquitoes as a breeding habitat. An increase in mosquitoes makes getting malaria more likely. Extreme weather, such as floods also displace people from their homes who are then exposed to outside elements, which include mosquitoes.

Climate change is also fueling food insecurity, as crops are destroyed by weather disasters. When children don't get the nutrition they need, they are more likely to get severe malaria. 

Authorities have tried distributing mosquito bed nets to people forced to relocate. However, unsuitable housing left them without a place to hang the nets as they sheltered in small tents or in crowded halls. Since this plan was not efficient, they chose to rely on insecticide spraying and an increased supply of antimalarial drugs.

Scientists have been working on new vaccines which are being tested and used to prevent the spread of malaria. Vaccine administration is shown to lower rates, and a second vaccine recently gained approval. Thankfully, experts anticipate malaria rates to normalize in roughly 1-2 years. Though things seem rough right now, there is hope that things will soon get better.

Sources: Washington Post, NY Times, PBS, Mayoclinic