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Malaria in the Americas: We Have Not Won the Fight Just Yet (Part 2 of 2)

Read part 1 here

fisherman-on-boat-malaria-fApproximately 137 million people in the Americas are at risk of contracting malaria, posing a significant threat to socio-economic development in the region. As a result, malaria often traps its victims in a complex cycle of poverty.


Economic Hindrance
Malaria and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are generally associated with poverty due to their prevalence in developing countries. In fact, studies indicate that the GDP growth rate per capita in malaria endemic countries is 0.25 – 1.3 percentage points lower per year than countries without malaria burden, even after controlling for the impact of factors such as savings rates, economic and political institutions, and education levels.

Many factors contribute to this phenomenon. Malaria can potentially slow the growth of a healthy tourism industry because visitors generally do not have immunity to the disease. In the era of globalization, malaria also can deter foreign direct investment in areas that require costly health interventions.

Social Barriers
Consequently, disease-endemic regions tend to attract less investment in social programs, such as those aimed at educating women and children, because such an investment is not likely to have as great an impact as in other areas with less malaria cases.

According to a study conducted by Brazilian researchers, even mild cases of malaria can have adverse effects on cognition and school performance. School children aged 5 – 14 years old with a past history of malaria in the municipality of Careiro, Amazonas, Brazil, were found to have lower cognition versus their school mates who did not have a history of malaria.

Reduced cognition can negatively affect productivity potential in adult life.  For example, children that grew up in areas of successful malaria eradication following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global eradication campaign of the 1950s earned 25 percent more than children from areas where malaria incidences increased or remained the same.

Global Funding
On a national level, many endemic countries lack the proper resources to combat malaria. Foreign aid often helps supplement investment in intervention methods. From 2000 – 2008 the majority of funds allocated to eradicate the disease came from individual governments. Though this continues to be the main source of funding for malaria reduction projects, international assistance has increased since 2004.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM) has had an especially important role in alleviating the disease burden of malaria in the Americas. In Haiti, financing for malaria reduction relied almost entirely on the GFATM. Up until 2008, the GFATM also carried out projects to benefit eleven other endemic countries in the Americas.

Commitments from foreign sources such as USAID, UN agencies, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carter Center, and the European Union have contributed in the fight against malaria in the Americas. These commitments have been crucial in funding intervention measures.

A pregnant woman sleeps
under a mosquito net

Intervention measures such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets are one of the most effective tools in combating malaria. Since 2005, nearly 1.8 million nets have been distributed throughout the region. In addition to nets, indoor residual spraying (IRS) remains a widespread preventative measure against malaria. However, epidemiologists have identified that the improper use of spraying and the decreased effect of pyrethroids—the chemicals used in insecticides—has contributed to the occasional decreased effectiveness of the IRS method.

The Future
Though eliminating malaria in the Americas is sure to be an ongoing challenge, it is well within reach. To date, the Americas have experienced a significant reduction of cases, on par with the goals set forth by Roll Back Malaria and the UN Millennium Development Goals. If the goals are to be fully met in the coming years, governments and organizations must continue to work together to protect countries from malaria’s strong grasp. Doing so will enable countries to further their development as well as reverse malaria’s negative socioeconomic impact in communities throughout the region.

PAHEF Supports Fighting Malaria in the Americas
The Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) is committed to fighting malaria in the Americas. As a founding partner of the Malaria Champions of the Americas award, an award jointly presented by PAHEF, PAHO, and the George Washington University Center for Global Health, the Foundation encourages and recognizes those fighting malaria in the region. 



A Sample of Recent PAHEF Projects in the Region