Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. While the disease is both preventable and curable, it caused 627 000 deaths in 2020 alone. This spells dangers for the agricultural community, as villages located near irrigated rice fields have higher malaria figures.
This statistic was provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The organisation’s African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2020, the region was home to 95% of malaria cases and 96% of malaria deaths.
“There are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans, and two of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat. P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent. P. vivax is the dominant malaria parasite in most countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa,” the WHO said.
“The first symptoms – fever, headache and chills – usually appear 10 – 15 days after the infective mosquito bite and may be mild and difficult to recognise as malaria. Left untreated, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness and death within a period of 24 hours.”
Kallista Chan is an infectious disease epidemiologist and a medical entomologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is also co-author of a study which explores the trends of malaria in agricultural villages specifically. Chan says that between 1970 and 2016, Africa was home to 90% of the world’s malaria infections.
Rice fields a breeding ground
“Since 2003, the number of mosquitoes detected in rice farming communities has increased six to eight times to that of non-rice farming areas, with malaria incidence nearly twice as high,” Chan said to FoodForAfrika.com.
“This is a departure from research conducted in the 1990s, which found no evidence that disease incidence was higher in communities with irrigated rice fields than in areas without.”
The findings came from 53 studies conducted in 14 African nations between 1971 and 2016, and these include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.
According to PubMed, a medical research publisher, the “paddies paradox” exists. This refers specifically to an increase in malaria cases in regions of Africa that are not agricultural villages or do not have irrigation. Mosquitos are so attracted to water as they breed and lay eggs in it, and researchers are still investigating this phenomenon.
NGOs doing their bit
Against Malaria Foundation: This is a global network with strong imprints across many countries in Africa. It works by engaging with the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) in each country, and this is a tool to help the organisation gauge the needs for each country.
In countries with high malaria numbers such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana and Malawi, it works hand-in-hand with organisations such as Concern Universal, IMA World Health and Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD).
In Uganda, it also works with The Africa Children’s Development Trust, which provides chiropractic care and malaria protection for children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years of age.
Goodbye Malaria: Goodbye Malaria is an African-led movement to eradicate malaria, which kills a child in Southern Africa every two minutes. Goodbye Malaria was founded in 2012 by a group of motivated and concerned African entrepreneurs who feel that their generation can develop unique solutions to problems that will impact how the world views Africa. The effort aims to gather finances while also supporting and driving malaria elimination programmes on the ground.
Corporate partners chip in
“Supported by Nando’s, an international restaurant group founded in South Africa, as well as other corporate partners including Vodacom, Nedbank and Airports Company South Africa, the organisation uses a community development model that taps into Africa’s creative talents to mobilise fundraising and advocacy against malaria while simultaneously creating employment opportunities,” the organisation said via it’s official website. “The Global Fund provides 56% of all international financing for malaria programmes.”
In 2020, it had distributed 188 million insecticide-treated nets and provided 9.4 million structures covered by indoor residual spraying as well. A total of 30 million children had received seasonal preventative chemo treatment in 2020, along with a total of 11.5 million pregnant women receiving preventative treatment.
Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation: “The extensive research and development behind the breakthrough new malaria vaccine is informing work on a new generation of complementary tools to control, prevent, and ultimately eradicate malaria,” said the organisation, founded by tech billionaire Bill Gates and his ex wife Melinda, on their website.
Working hard to stamp it out
“Eradication is a top priority of the foundation. For two decades, we have devoted resources and expertise to a relentless pursuit of malaria eradication, and we have continuously adapted our approach to achieve the greatest possible impact, in partnership with the global community,” the organisation said.
Many of the tools and tactics needed to combat malaria already exist, such as insecticide-treated bed nets, rapid diagnostic tests, effective medicines, and treatment availability, and have been critical in achieving the success made thus far.
“However, cases continue to rise in many high-burden countries,” the organisation added.
For many years, timely, high-quality data on where, when, and who malaria strikes has been lacking, particularly in countries and communities with the highest burdens. This has allowed the disease to maintain its hold.
To address this challenge, we invest in organisations that are working to map malaria’s burden down to the community level and in real time, enabling malaria programs to better identify the location, timing, and tools needed to fight the disease. We also support the use of data, modeling, and molecular techniques that can strengthen responses around the world while ensuring efficient use of limited resources.”