The number of cases and deaths related to malaria has been declining steadily for 15 years, but the mosquito-transmitted disease continues to kill more than 400,000 people each year. Ninety per cent of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Seventy per cent are children.

MSF/Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

Malaria impact

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3.2 billion people (nearly half of the world’s population) were at risk of malaria in 2015 and 95 countries and territories had ongoing malaria transmission. Some groups are at higher risk of contracting malaria, and developing severe disease, than others – including infants, children under five years of age, pregnant women, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Suffering and loss of life from malaria are tragically unnecessary because the disease is largely preventable, detectable and treatable.

For more information: WHO malaria fact sheet

Malaria facts

  • Transmission: Malaria is a parasitic infection transmitted by the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes, which are infected by feeding on a person carrying parasites.
  • Signs and symptoms: Malaria begins as a flu-like illness, with symptoms including fever, joint pain, headaches, frequent vomiting, convulsions and coma. If left untreated, it can become severe. Death from malaria may be due to brain damage (cerebral malaria), or damage to vital organs.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnosing malaria is done with rapid tests or looking for the parasite under a microscope in a blood smear.
  • Treatment: Artemisinin-based combination therapy is the most effective treatment. A course of antimalarial pills for a baby can cost as little as 32 cents.
  • Prevention and control: Insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor residual spraying are the main methods of prevention; malaria can also be prevented by using antimalarial medicines, also known as 'chemoprophylaxis'.

MSF activites

MSF treated more than 2.5 million cases of malaria in 2016. Since 2001, the WHO has recommended using artemisinin-based combination therapies to treat malaria. The use of these new treatments contributed significantly to the remarkable reduction in the number of malaria-related deaths in the last 15 years. However, resistance to artemisinin has been documented in some regions – enabled, at least in part, by the use of monotherapies (artemisinin alone, not in combination with other drugs), counterfeit and poor-quality drugs, and treatment interruptions once symptoms have abated. It could get worse and become a greater threat to public health, too, because there will not be any replacements for artemisinin treatment available for several years. In Cambodia, where growing artemisinin resistance is a particular threat, MSF is researching how resistant malaria spreads and evaluating which strategies could contribute to the elimination of the disease locally.

In 2012, MSF teams in Mali and Chad staged one of the first large-scale seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaigns, providing pre-emptive malaria treatment to children in places where the disease is seasonally endemic through repeated administration of antimalarials. MSF is now implementing this strategy in five countries, and the strategy has been integrated into the national policies of 13 countries in the Sahel region of Africa with highly seasonal transmission. More than 15 million children should be covered in 2016. This strategy is not intended to become a permanent tool to combat the disease, however. The protective effect of SMC is relative and of limited duration, ceasing several weeks after completed. Thus, it is a valuable approach to save lives in some contexts, but we still need more comprehensive, longer-lasting solutions.

After decades of research, ‘RTS,S’ is the first malaria vaccine to have completed clinical development. However, its efficacy is limited, particularly against the severe forms of the disease, and it is complicated to use. It requires four doses, two of which have to be separated by 18 months. Further pilot studies with this vaccine by other actors will start in 2018. MSF continues to call for ongoing research to develop a safe, efficacious, inexpensive vaccine that is easy to use in developing countries. This is a call that needs to be answered by pharmaceutical companies, research bodies, and national and international health bodies alike if we want the keep up the momentum in the fight against malaria.

Sort by:

Crisis Update
Hundreds of thousands of people remain heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Any...
A team working for MSF were victims of a violent armed robbery on Tuesday 24 April.
The new MSF malaria project in Kouroussa, Guinea, is preparing for the malaria peak, which strikes...
Sébastien Jagla, MSF project coordinator in the north of Democratic Republic of Congo, describes...
“Our teams respond to the medical needs of the South Sudanese refugees and the local community,...
Having fled indescribable violence in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh must now contend...
“Because medical facilities in the area have been abandoned or repurposed for other uses, this...
“New arrivals tell us of attacks at night, and a small number have deep cuts and wounds. Many...
Crisis Update
Yemen is one of MSF’s largest missions of the world in terms of personnel, with approximately 1,827...
“We have treated patients who have been shot, stabbed, beaten, burned in their homes and raped.”
MSF's Pictures of the Year collection looks back on a year of providing medical care in extreme...
When people simply don’t have the means to pay either formal or informal healthcare fees, they are...
Between 12-15 December the Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017 will take place Tokyo, Japan.
“This is the first time that Marburg fever has been diagnosed in these districts of Uganda, but...
Crisis Update
The conflict between the Nigerian military and armed opposition groups known as Boko Haram has been...
More than two million people have fled their homes, with little chance of returning in the near...