November 1, 2012 | The Editors

The high cost of malaria

Little girl gazes off to the right as she sits in her father's lap.

Since a case of malaria caused neurological complications, Rael spends much of her time in the care of her father. Photo: PATH/Eric Becker.Ask any family in western Kenya how malaria has touched them, and you’re sure to hear a list of relatives and friends who have fallen ill with the disease. Too often, that list includes the name of a child left disabled or dead by malaria.

Joseph Chebundet cradles his six-year-old daughter, Rael, as he recalls the night three years ago when malaria stole the child he knew. Rael woke with a high fever, calling out the names of her sisters in the night. By morning, she was unconscious.

After more than two weeks in the hospital, Rael awoke again, but she had lost the ability to walk, feed herself, or communicate with her family. Doctors said she had cerebral malaria, the disease’s most severe neurological complication.

Search for solutions

The high cost of malaria can be measured in many ways: the lost income when parents must skip work to care for a sick child, the cost to the region in lost productivity and increased poverty, the strain on an overstretched health care system.

But it is the personal stories of illness and loss that drive home malaria’s terrible toll and add urgency to PATH’s search for solutions. This month on the PATH blog, we’re bringing you stories from that search. We’ll introduce you to the work that is changing lives right now, the projects that could one day free millions from malaria’s threat, and the people who are bringing these solutions to life.

Response equal to the challenge

Beating malaria demands solutions equal to the challenge of this complex disease. PATH is taking the fight against malaria right to the hardest-hit communities—in western Kenya and around the world.

At the village level, we train and support community health workers who go door to door promoting malaria prevention and early detection. We track malaria hotspots and provide rapid treatment for those infected.

At the national level, we strengthen the capacity of health systems to treat malaria and help malaria control programs pioneer new methods to decrease its transmission. We’re working with partners to identify, assess, and test malaria vaccine candidates. To make supplies more reliable, we’ve developed a semisynthetic form of artemisinin, the main ingredient in the most effective treatment for malaria.

Top health threat

Nowhere in Kenya does malaria pose a greater threat than in the communities ringing Lake Victoria’s eastern shore, where the disease remains a leading cause of death for children under age five. Even before seasonal rains create new breeding areas for mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite and bring a surge in malaria outbreaks, the pediatric ward at Webuye District Hospital in western Kenya is full of children battling the disease.

In one bed, five-month-old Sarah Veronica Nasimiyu is making a slow comeback from the double threat of malaria and diarrhea, watched carefully by her anxious young mother. Across the hall, Elizabeth Nandoha is holding the hand of her six-year-old grandson, Oliver, who is fighting his way back from a high fever caused by malaria. After four days in the hospital, Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief when Oliver finally ate a few bites of porridge and asked for a Coke.

PATH is working to keep malaria from robbing children like these of their future. We know we’re on the right track; global death rates from malaria are down by a quarter since 2000. From simple, proven interventions such as insecticide-treated bednets to cutting-edge drugs and vaccines, PATH’s comprehensive strategy is helping to prevent suffering, save lives, and move us toward a world free from malaria.

For more information

Our work in malaria

Posted in: , , ,