Monday, March 15, 2010

What is Malaria?

How much do you know about Malaria?

For those of us living many miles from Malaria, we don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

This week I interviewed a random cross section of Columbus, Ohio, asking them to tell me what they knew about Malaria and to give me their best drawing of a mosquito. Just as everyone’s drawing is unique, so every person’s idea about Malaria is different.

Mosquitoes, at least, are familiar. We look at Malaria, however, across a great deal of distance. Although 40% of the world’s population has to worry about Malaria every day, here in Ohio we haven’t had to think about that particular disease in a very long time.

Still, most of the people I interviewed knew at least a little about Malaria—that it is carried by mosquitoes, makes people very sick with a high fever, and is prevalent in tropical areas. One World War II veteran told me that he remembered many of his buddies becoming sick with the disease in Burma during the war. Someone else mentioned that, growing up in West Virginia, she remembered always being on the lookout for stagnant water because of a risk for Malaria in her area.

One of the most common answers was that Malaria is a tropical disease. Actually, Malaria once plagued much of the United States, Europe, and Russia. Efforts to eradicate it here were successful in the 1950s and 60s and the developed world moved on. Now Malaria is stronger than ever, with the greatest hold in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. It is the number one cause of child mortality in Africa, a major threat to women during pregnancy, and costs Africa an estimated 12 billion dollars in lost GDP annually, due to health care costs and lost productivity.

Whether we spend a lot of time thinking about Malaria, or hardly give it a thought, it does affect us, too, even here in Columbus. We live in a globalized society, and if you haven’t traveled yourself to a Malaria-endemic part of the world, you probably know someone who has. The United Nations has made it their goal to bring deaths from Malaria to near zero by 2015, and the United States is a part of that effort.

Malaria is preventable. It doesn’t have to play as large of a part as it does in the lives of so many people and in the economies of countries around the world. Any individual can make a difference, whether it’s by buying a ten dollar bed net for a child around the world or just by raising awareness and making sure the rest of the world still cares about Malaria.

And then, maybe soon, if a child in Africa is asked to draw a mosquito and answer the question “what is Malaria”, she too can tap her pen on the table and stare into space and answer, “I don’t know, is it a disease or a cancer or a bug, or what?”

I want to say a really big Thank You to everyone who allowed me to survey them this past week! Everyone was extremely obliging and agreeable, taking time out of their workdays or lunch breaks or birthday parties to spend a few minutes talking about Malaria.

For more information or to donate a bed net, see:

Survey Answers:

Malaria—Blood disease—passed to us by mosquitoes—high fever, prevalent in tropical areas. Use mosquito nets! -Diane, Social Worker

Malaria is a tropical disease carried by Anopheles Mosquitoes. -Shahin, Librarian

Malaria is a disease spread by Mosquitoes, most commonly in warm humid areas. Its symptoms include a fever, chills, and vomiting. -Ellie, Children’s Librarian

Malaria is a mosquito that carries a disease that can make people very ill. -Gabby, Student

Malaria is an infectious disease carried by a mosquito often in warm climates. -Tim

Nets can protect you from mosquitoes that carry the disease. -Leslie, Environmentalist

Insect borne illness I think involving “bad” water. -Lorelei, Library Patron

Malaria is a kind of cancer? Not sure. -Chelsea

This is caused by dirty water and caused by mosquitoes. -Deb, STNA

A disease. It is spread by mosquitos. It is most common in warmer climates. It can cause a fever. -Don, Police Officer

A disease caused by mosquitoes. -Abbie, Therapist

Malaria—has something to do with bugs. -Marylou

Malaria is a disease transmitted by a mosquito that has fed from an infected individual. It can cause high fever and malaise. It is more prevalent in 3rd world nations in tropical regions of the world. -Laura, Science Teacher

Malaria is a disease most commonly transmitted by mosquitoes. It was a big problem during the construction of the Panama Canal. Adam, Engineer