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What is Malaria? | Why Invest in Malaria Control? | Economic Impact of Malaria | Cost-Effective Interventions | What Can the Private Sector Do?

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a disease caused by parasites of the Plasmodium species transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. If left untreated, the infection in its most severe forms can lead to permanent learning disabilities, coma, and death.

Malaria is preventable and treatable, yet half of the word's population is at risk. Malaria claims more than 655,000 lives a year and threatens global prosperity. It is a leading cause of death for children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa, killing a child every 60 seconds and posing a deadly threat to pregnant women.
Why Invest in Malaria Control?

Malaria control efforts are a proven return on investment. While a lot more needs to be done to eradicate this disease, thanks to heightened global attention, increased funding and successful partnerships, we have achieved substantial successes: More than a million African children's lives have been saved in the past 10 years, and more than 40 endemic countries have halved their malaria cases or deaths over the past few years. Without continued investment, we not only could lose the gains made but the situation will grow worse and cost even more in the future.

What is the Economic Impact of Malaria?

The economic impact of malaria is estimated to cost Africa $12 billion every year. This figure factors in costs of health care, absenteeism, days lost in education, decreased productivity due to brain damage from cerebral malaria, and loss of investment and tourism.

  • Malaria is bad for business: the disease is responsible for employee absenteeism, increased health care spending, and decreased productivity, all of which can negatively impact a company's reputation.
  • A 2011 Roll Back Malaria report found that in sub-Saharan Africa, 72% of companies reported a negative malaria impact, with 39% perceiving these impacts to be serious.
  • In a 2004 survey, nearly three-quarters of companies in the Africa region reported that malaria was negatively affecting their business.   
  • Poor children and women in rural areas are at the greatest risk of death or severe debility from malaria, which drains the resources of families.
  • Overall, households in Africa lose up to 25% of income to the disease.
  • Leading economists estimate that malaria causes an "economic growth penalty" of up to 1.3% per year in malaria endemic African countries. Malaria discourages investments and tourism, affects land use patterns and crop selection resulting in sub-optimal agricultural production, reduces labor productivity, and impairs learning.
  • Malaria can strain national economies, impacting some nations' gross domestic product by as much as an estimated 5–6%.
  • In some areas, malaria accounts for 15% of health-related absenteeism from school. It is estimated that in endemic areas, malaria may impair as much as 60% of the schoolchildren’s learning ability.

The good news? Access to malaria control interventions can increase productivity, encourage market expansion, and boost household spending.

What are the most cost-effective interventions?

Malaria control is increasingly recognized as an important element of national poverty reduction strategies for malaria-endemic countries because of the social and economic impacts of the disease. We need to continue taking steps to ensure that investment in malaria control is money well spent, and that Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets (LLINs), Artemisinin-Combination Therapies (ACTs), and other tools become more accessible for vulnerable populations by subsidizing production costs, making drugs more affordable, and reducing or abolishing taxes and tariffs on anti-malarial commodities.
Over the past decade the cost effectiveness of key malaria preventive and curative interventions have been well established. A fairly exhaustive review of the evidence associated with the cost effectiveness of malaria control interventions was published in 2000 by the Global Forum for Health Research. The central message from this analysis is that all of the malaria control interventions evaluated would be an attractive use of resources.  In more recent years, the interventions—already established as cost-effective—have been subject to continuous improvements to promote more effective use and an improved cost-effectiveness ratio.
What can the private sector do to help?
The private sector's involvement in malaria control is critical to restraining and eventually eliminating the disease. In fact, African-based corporate partners of the United Against Malaria campaign alone have protected some 10 million employees through “Malaria Safe” initiatives such as malaria awareness programs and net distributions. Additionally, they are raising funds for long lasting insecticide-treated nets in sub-Saharan Africa through UAM bracelet sales in Africa, North America, Europe, and Australia.
For more information on how companies can join the United Against Malaria campaign and help eradicate this disease by 2015, visit the Malaria Safe Playbook.