The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Malaria Day is on 6 November every year.  It aims to create awareness about malaria and mobilise the community to participate in the malaria control programmes.

Facts about malaria from the 2022 World Health Malaria Report

  • In 2021, nearly half of the world's population was at risk of malaria.
  • Globally, there were an estimated 247 million malaria cases in 2021 in 84 malaria endemic countries (including the territory of French Guiana), an increase from 245 million in 2020, with most of this increase coming from countries in the WHO African Region.
  • The WHO African Region, with an estimated 234 million cases in 2021, accounted for about 95% of global cases.
  • The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 619 000 in 2021.
  • Infants, children under 5 years, pregnant women, travellers and people with HIV or AIDS are at higher risk of severe infection.
  • There are 5 Plasmodium parasite species that cause malaria in humans and 2 of these species – falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat. P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent.

What is malaria?

Malaria is a life-threatening disease.  Infected female mosquitoes pass the parasite on to people through their bites causing the disease.

The parasite Plasmodium falciparum is the main source of malaria. There are 4 other plasmodium parasite species: Plasmodium ovale, vivax, malariae and knowlesi.

Who gets malaria?

Any person living in or traveling to a country where malaria occurs is at risk.

Where does malaria occur?

Malaria occurs across the globe in tropical and sub-tropical areas.  Malaria is currently a problem in Asia, Africa and Central and South America.

Within South Africa, malaria appears mainly in Northern and Eastern Mpumalanga, Northern KwaZulu-Natal and the border areas of Northern and North West provinces.  Malaria is also a threat to travellers visiting the lower lying areas of Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and most of Botswana.  Northern Namibia is a malaria area.

Malaria is seasonal in South Africa.  It is at its highest during the warmer and wetter months of November to April.  The risk reduces during May to October.  However, a low risk does not mean that there is no risk.

How do you get malaria?

When the female Anopheles mosquito bites a person with malaria, she becomes infected.  When this mosquito then bites you, she injects the malaria parasite into your body.  The parasites attack your red blood cells and invade the liver causing malaria.

Transfusion of blood from infected people can bring about malaria.  Another source is the use of contaminated needles or syringes.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Symptoms of malaria include:

  • Flu like feeling
  • Fever
  • Chills or shivering
  • Sweating
  • Generalized body ache
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhoea may also occur

Malaria may cause anaemia and jaundice (yellow colouring of the skin and eyes) due to the loss of red blood cells.  Young children usually show symptoms of fever, tiredness, loss of appetite and vomiting.

Why is malaria dangerous?

Plasmodium falciparum is the main cause of malaria in South Africa.  It is potentially the most dangerous type of malaria and can prove rapidly fatal.  Cerebral malaria is extremely serious, with the victim becoming delirious and entering a coma.  Cerebral malaria is frequently fatal.

Symptoms may develop as soon as 7 days after entering a malaria area and as long as 6 months after leaving a malaria area.  All persons possibly exposed to malaria that develops influenza-like illnesses or fever within 7 days after entering a malaria area should seek immediate medical attention.  This is irrespective of the time of year, or whether or not prophylactic medicine was taken.  Malaria symptoms may not be dramatic and are easily mistaken for flu.  It is extremely important that all suspected cases of malaria should receive immediate medical attention.

How soon do symptoms occur?

The time between the infective mosquito bite and the development of malaria symptoms can range from 7 to 30 days depending on the type of parasite involved.  When infection occurs by blood transfusion the incubation period depends on the number of parasites transferred but is usually less than 2 months.

What medicine should I take to prevent malaria?

Your doctor, travel clinic or pharmacist can advise you as to what medicine to take to reduce the risk of getting malaria.

Avoiding mosquito bites is more important than using preventative medication

  • Avoid exposure to mosquitoes during the early morning and early evening hours. It is the hours of greatest mosquito activity.
  • Wear appropriate clothing (long-sleeved shirts, socks and long trousers) especially when you are outdoors.
  • Apply generous amounts of insect repellent frequently to exposed skin.
  • Spray mosquito repellent on clothing to prevent mosquitoes from biting through thin clothing.
  • Use a mosquito net over your bed. Treat the net regularly with an insecticide.
  • Cover windows and doorways with screens.
  • Close windows and doors at night. Use a ceiling fan or air-conditioner.
  • Spray the inside of the house with an insecticide for flying insects at dusk, especially the bedrooms after closing the windows.
  • Burn mosquito mats or coils in living areas and bedrooms during the night.
  • Stay in well-constructed, well ventilated and well-maintained buildings.