Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
According to the Director, Centre for Malaria Care, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Prof. Olugbenga Mokuolu, malaria is a serious disease that can often be fatal; hence the need to refrain from describing it as “ordinary malaria.”
Mokuolu notes that malaria is caused by parasites that infect specific mosquitoes and, contrary to what many people might think, it is an infection that can be passed from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby!
Mother to child transmission
Experts warn that one in 20 pregnant mothers could infect their babies if they develop malaria very close to the time of delivery. They say it is one reason why pregnant women must not be exposed to mosquitoes at any point in time.
The Managing Director, Society for Family Health, Mr. Bright Ekweremadu, notes that while deaths due to malaria have fallen by half globally since 2000, with about 4.3 million deaths averted, in 2015 alone, there were estimated 438,000 malaria deaths globally. Over the last 15 years, there has been a remarkable decline in the global malaria burden, according to the World Health Organisation.
“What this translates into is that the war against malaria is not over until we achieve zero malarial infection and zero malarial death,” Ekweremadu says.
At risk population
While anyone can come down with malaria, there are people who are heavily exposed to the bites of mosquitoes infected with P. falciparum and on whom malaria can wreak terrible havoc because of their peculiarities.
Mokuolu notes that the disease can have debilitating effects on people who have little or no immunity to malaria, such as young children and pregnant women.
Again, experts say, those whose spleens have been removed, as well as people who suffer from sickle cell anaemia are at huge risk of severe malaria infection.
Symptoms to watch
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, malaria symptoms can be classified into two categories: uncomplicated and severe malaria.
Experts say uncomplicated malaria is diagnosed when symptoms are present, but there are no clinical or laboratory signs to indicate a severe infection or the dysfunction of vital organs.
“Individuals suffering from this form can eventually develop severe malaria if the disease is left untreated or if they have poor or no immunity to the disease,” experts say.
They note that symptoms of uncomplicated malaria typically last between six and 10 hours and they occur in cycles every second day, although some strains of the parasite can cause a longer cycle or mixed symptoms.
“Symptoms are often flu-like and may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed if appropriate diagnosis methods are not used,” Mokuolu warns.
Experts at CDC say uncomplicated malaria typically has the following progression of symptoms through cold, hot and sweating stages. They include sensation of cold, shivering fever, headaches and vomiting, while seizures sometimes occur in young children.
They add that the patient can also experience sweating followed by a return to normal temperature, with tiredness.
On the other hand, severe malaria is defined by clinical or laboratory evidence of vital organ dysfunction. This form has the capacity to be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms of severe malaria include fever and chills, impaired consciousness, prostration (adopting a prone or prayer position), multiple convulsions, deep breathing and respiratory distress, abnormal bleeding and signs of anaemia, clinical jaundice and evidence of vital organ dysfunction.
Other symptoms include rigor, headaches and other body aches, not feeling well, loss of appetite, vomiting, joint weakness/pains, palms or eyes may be white; and in complicated cases, the patient may suffer loss of consciousness, extreme weakness, dark urine and jaundice.
Mokuolu says there is no reliable symptom that can make anyone to be sure you have malaria, because not every fever is malaria. “So, the best practice is to have your blood tested for the presence of the parasites. This can be either by rapid diagnostic tests or microscopy,” he explains.
Experts warn that severe malaria is a medical emergency and the person has to be admitted so that they can have sound medical attention.
What we can do
Ekweremadu says the national malaria control programmes have been developed to take special measures to protect vulnerable population groups from malaria infection, taking into consideration their specific circumstances.
He adds that working with the Global Fund’s new funding model, the goal of the Society for Family Health is to ensure timely availability of appropriate antimalarial medicines and commodities required for prevention a and treatment of malaria in Nigeria by 2018 and sustained through to 2020, among others.