Malaria is an acute and chronic disease caused by obligate intercellular protozoa of the genus plasmodium. Malaria has also been one of the world’s killer diseases throughout human history. Despite attempt to eradicate it, it remains one of the deadliest diseases globally.
Discovered in 1886 by Laveram, a military physician who was working in Constantine Algeria, malaria is an intermittent and remittent fever caused by a protozoa parasite that invades the red blood cells. It is by far the most important insect transmitting disease. It is a mosquito born infectious disease of human and other animals caused by protists.
Malaria is a life threatening disease; it is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected female anopheles mosquito. Infected mosquitoes carry the plasmodium parasite. When this mosquito bites you, the parasite is released into your blood stream. Once the parasites are inside your body, they travel to live where they mature. After several days, the mature parasites enter the blood stream and begin to infect the blood cells. Within 48 to 72 hours, the parasites inside the red blood cells multiply, causing the infected cells to burst open.
The parasite continues to infect red blood cells, resulting in symptoms that occur in cycles that last for two to three days at a time.
Malaria is typically found in tropical and subtropical climates where the parasites can live. World Health Organization (WHO) States that about half the world’s population were at risk in 2015.
Nigeria has 71 percent prevalence and contributes about 27 percent of the 26,000 malaria cases and 23 percent of the 435,000 death recorded in 2016 according to the 2017 world malaria report.
Malaria is responsible for 11 percent of maternal mortality rate in Nigeria. There are over 445,000 malaria deaths yearly in the world and Nigeria accounts for 207,000 cases.
Causes Of Malaria
Malaria can occur if a mosquito Infected with the plasmodium parasite bites you. There are four kinds of malaria parasites that infect humans: Plasmodium Vivax, Plasmodium Ovale, Plasmodium Malariae and Plasmodium Falciparium. Plasmodium Falciparium causes a more severe form of the disease and those who contract this form of malaria have a high risk of death.
An infected mother can also pass the disease to her baby at birth. This is known as congenital malaria. Malaria is transmitted by blood, so it can also be transmitted through: an organ transplant, transfusion, and use of shared needles or syringes.
The symptoms of malaria typically develop within 10 days to four weeks following infection. In some cases, symptoms may not develop for several months. Some malaria parasites can enter the body but will be dormant for a long period of time. Some common symptoms include: Shaking chills that can range from moderate to severe, high fever, profuse sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, anemia, muscle pain, convulsion, coma, bloody stools etc.
Apart from the physical symptoms of malaria mentioned above, additional blood test is very necessary to confirm diagnosis. This test will show whether you have malaria; what type of malaria that is present; if the infection is caused by a parasite that is resistant to certain types of drugs; if the disease has caused anemia and if the disease has affected the patient’s vital organs.
Malaria can cause a number of life threatening complications. The following may occur: swelling of blood vessels of the brain or cerebral malaria; an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that causes breathing problems; organ failure of the kidneys, liver, or spleen; Anemia due to the destruction of red blood cells and low blood sugar.
Malaria can be a life-threatening condition especially if the patient has Plasmodium Falciparium. Treatment for the disease is typically provided in a hospital. The doctor will prescribe medication based on the type of parasite that the patient has. In some instances, the medication prescribed may not clear the infection due to parasite resistance to drugs. If this occurs, the doctor may need to use more than one medication or change medications altogether to treat the condition.
In addition, certain types of malaria, such as Plasmodium Vivax and Plasmodium Ovale, have liver stages where the parasite can live in your body for an extended period of time and reactivate at a later date causing a relapse of the infection. A patient with any of these types of malaria will be given a second medication to prevent a relapse in the future.
People with malaria who receive treatment typically have a good long-term outlook. If complications arise as a result of malaria, the outlook may not be as good as expected. Cerebral malaria, which causes swelling of the blood vessels of the brain, can results in brain damage. The long-term outlook for patients with drug-resistant parasite may also be poor. In these patients, malaria may reoccur which may cause other complications.
Regrettably, majority of our rural dwellers have little or no idea about diagnosis before or during treatment or even while going to buy drugs at the patent store, all they are used to is to walk into the patent store and complain of headache or pains, and they are simply given drugs.
Our health centers are not different in any way. For those who are conscious of accessing the health facility, there seems to be no laboratory technicians in our health facilities, which creates the opportunity for paracetamol to be administered to the gullible patients.
Worst still, the urban or cities are not left out as lots of people either find it difficult or view as of no importance, testing before treatment.
There is no vaccine available for now to prevent malaria. In Nigeria, we are more interested in curative medicine, we either don’t care about preventive medicine or we have no knowledge of it. All we care is to wait until when we are sick, then we will visit the hospital.
However, the use of Long Lasting Insecticidal Treated Nets will help prevent being beaten by an infected mosquito. Covering of one’s skin or using bug sprays containing DEET may also help prevent infection.
The use of bug sprays comes with its side effects as most commercial bug repellents can cause health and environmental problems. The choice of a DEET-based chemical repellent is for people with high risk for mosquito bites.
The use of natural repellents might be a better option especially for children who are more sensitive to the chemical contents of the manufactured repellants.
Some examples of the natural repellents are: Lemon eucalyptus oil, Lavender oil, Cinnamon oil, Thyme oil, Greek catnip oil, Soya bean oil, Citronella, Tea tree oil, Geraniol and Been oil.
Note: This essential oil should not be put on the skin directly; they are usually diluted in carrier oil. The recipe is usually 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil in 1 ounce of the carrier oil.
Treating Mosquito Bites
Even with mosquito repellent, one may get itchy, painful mosquito bites. To treat mosquito bites at home, the affected part of the body may robbed with any of the following: Oatmeal, Crushed ice, Honey, Aloe vera, Baking soda, Basil, Vinegar, Onion, Thyme, Lemon balm, Witch hazel, Chamomile tea, Garlic.
In order to sustain the gains in the fight against the killer disease and the danger of a reversal, there is a need to deploy innovative approach to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria. The progress made can be tracked with an effective surveillance system.
Government has to embark on actualization of the basic healthcare fund meant to increase the physical space and overall financing of the health sector which will lead to the achievement of Universal Health Coverage.
There is need to intensify malaria prevention in MPN in our rural areas. This initiative will improve the quality of testing and diagnosing malaria while also collating data through the introduction of a new technology, the Deki reader.
The technology is a specialized and integrated platform that uses an innovative approach to improve the accuracy of Rapid Diagnostic Testing (RDT) for data capturing and decision making. The Deki reader allows for getting results, accounting for commodities and also gives details which are stored in a portal for future reference.
There is urgent need to hold advocacy and sensitization visits in churches, schools, communities using the media on the need to keep the environment clean; avoiding the keeping of containers and other materials that breeds mosquito close to the house; clearing and cleaning the culverts and gutters clean and most importantly, the need to test for malaria before treatment.
The poverty rate of our people is very sickening, with the high death rate in this country, most of these deaths caused by malaria can sure to be attributed to the poverty state of some of these families.
The government, nongovernmental organizations, philanthropists and other well spirited members of the public should engage in medical outreaches.
All hands must be on deck to kill this killer disease.
Elijah Ugani is a journalist and CrossRiverWatch’s health correspondent.
NOTE:Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Elijah Ugani, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.