Malaria is one of the diseases that are responsible for the highest mortality and morbidity rates in Africa especially among children (World Bank, 2009). In fact, it is one of the greatest public health concerns in Africa and most of the health programs are aimed at prevention and treatment of the disease (World Bank, 2009). This disease is common among Africans compared to other ethnic groups due to economic, cultural, economic and social factors. In a bid to fight this scourge, Africans have been using several methods to control the spread of malaria and the methods have included both the modern and traditional approaches.
Malaria is an infectious disease which is usually caused by a parasite that is known as plasmodium. These parasites are protozoan in nature and they are of several species which include Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale, and Plasmodium vivax (Sherman, 1998). Among these species, the most serious and fatal species to human beings is P. falciparum. The plasmodium is transmitted to humans by the female anopheles mosquitoes and its lifecycle involves two hosts which are the human host and a mosquito vector (Sherman, 1998).
In the lifecycle of the plasmodium it forms sporozoites which are found in the gut of the female mosquito (Russel & Wolfe, 2008). The female mosquito transmits the sporozoites to human beings through a bite. These sporozoites move into the human liver where they enter the liver cells and mature into a schizont which contains numerous merozoites (Russel & Wolfe, 2008). These merozoites are released into bloodstream where they invade the red cells thereby forming schizonts with numerous merozoites. These are released from the red blood cells into bloodstream where they invade more red cells.
As the red cells are bursting to release the merozoites, toxic compounds are released which causes the fever and the clinical symptoms that are associated with malaria (Russel & Wolfe, 2008). In the bloodstream, some of the merozoites differentiate into the male and female gametes which are taken up by the mosquito from the infected person and these two fertilize each other in the gut of the mosquito and they develop into sporozoites (Russel & Wolfe, 2008). These are transmitted to another human being through a bite by the mosquito.
Though the principal mode of malaria transmission is by mosquito bites, there are other methods that can transmit the malarial parasite. One of these is blood transfusion following existence of dormant plasmodium parasites in the donor’s blood. This can make the transfused person to suffer from a febrile illness and for these reasons in areas where malaria is endemic a full course of chloroquine is administered to potential recipients of blood (Kakkilaya, 2006). Another mode of transmission is transmission from mother to child among pregnant women.
These parasites pass to the child through the placenta especially if the mother has no immunity (Kakkilaya, 2006). The last mode of transmission is through needle stick injury which can be either accidental as happens among healthcare providers or intentional as happens among drug addicts who share needles (Kakkilaya, 2006). There are several factors that make Africans vulnerable to malaria and one of these are the environmental factors which contribute to spread of the disease. To begin with, malaria is a climate related disease where it is mostly found in the tropic and subtropic regions.
The climate in Africa particularly the annual mean temperature is mostly within the tolerance limit of the plasmodium species and this makes the parasite to thrive thus rendering the populations living in this area vulnerable (Leary, 2008). Another environmental factor is weather disturbances in Africa which influences the breeding sites of the vectors thereby increasing the transmission potential of malaria (Leary, 2008). These weather disturbances occur in the form of prolonged droughts and heavy rains. There are several social and cultural factors that make Africans vulnerable to malaria disease.
One of these is increased human population in Africa and this has led to swamp reclamation and deforestation in a bid to find more land for settlement. The effect of these activities has been the creation of puddles which provides good breeding sites for the mosquitoes which in turn transmit malaria (Leary, 2008). When the vegetation is removed, what happens is that the temperatures increase and this aids in malaria transmission. Another factor is self medication where many people in Africa buy drugs over the counter and treat themselves at home (Leary, 2008).
This has led to development of drug resistant strains of plasmodium necessitating continuous replacement of anti-malarial drugs. This has made the populations in Africa susceptible to the disease since instead of dealing with the problem the populations create more problems by creating drug resistant strains of plasmodium. In addition, many people treat themselves with anti-malarial drugs that have already been ruled as ineffective thereby putting themselves at risk of developing serious and complicated malaria (Leary, 2008).
Another factor is lack of knowledge on the disease among both the communities and the public health officials. A study done in 2004 showed that in East Africa people are required by the Public Health Act to clear the bushes around their houses as a way of preventing the spread of yellow fever yet studies have shown that clearing of bushes creates favorable breeding conditions for malaria (Leary, 2008). This increases the vulnerability of Africans to malaria disease since effective measures are not taken to prevent spread of malaria.
Economic factors also increase the vulnerability of Africans to malaria. Poverty levels in Africa are high which means that there are inadequate economic resources to invest in healthcare thereby making people vulnerable to malaria epidemics. Most of the populations here live below a dollar a day and also cases of food shortages are very common which makes obtaining food rather than malaria prevention a priority (Leary, 2008). These economic hardships also make it difficult for populations to seek good healthcare services.
Most just go to the private clinics or to the local dispensaries most of which have no equipment for diagnosis thus resulting in inappropriate prescriptions (Leary, 2008). In addition, some of the medical staff found in these healthcare facilities are not qualified. The reason as to why most of the people prefer the local dispensaries is cost constraints where they cannot afford motorized transport and thus prefer to use cheap means of transport such as bicycles (Leary, 2008). Myths and cultural beliefs also make Africans vulnerable to malaria.
This is particularly with regard to the cause and prevention of malaria. Some people believe that malaria is caused by witchcraft or supernatural forces and a good example is Uganda where the populations here associate convulsions which are a form of malarial complication with supernatural forces (Leary, 2008). This really makes the populations vulnerable to malaria since they cannot take measures to prevent malaria. In addition, due to such beliefs, people who have malaria are not treated with conventional medicine which is more effective but are treated using traditional medicine which is not that effective.
This makes the populations susceptible to malaria epidemics since the problem is not being addressed thereby ensuring the spread of the disease and increasing mortality rates. Other people associate malaria with certain foods and a good example is populations in Tanzania who believe that malaria is due to consumption of maize meal (Leary, 2008). This belief results from the fact that maize meals in Tanzania are commonly consumed in times of food shortages which occur following too much or too little rainfall (Leary, 2008). These climatic conditions are also associated with increased cases of malaria.
However, the populations associate malaria with the food they commonly eat at that time and therefore they do not eat maize meals as a way of fighting malaria (Leary, 2008). This only serves to make them more vulnerable to malaria. There are several methods that are used to control the spread of malaria. Some of these methods are aimed at lowering exposure to infectious mosquito bites and these include indoor spraying using insecticides, use of bed nets that are insecticide treated, and use of repellants (Falola & Heaton, 2007).
Insecticides are used to reduce the number of adult mosquitoes while materials such as repellants repel mosquitoes away from an individual thereby curbing the spread of the disease. Another method involves treatment of the disease using drugs. Though drug resistance has been a great problem in fighting malaria, drugs have proven to be effective in suppressing the parasite within the host thus preventing further spread of the disease (Falola & Heaton, 2007). Other treatment methods involve interfering with the breeding sites of mosquitoes and these include draining of stagnant water and spraying of breeding sites with insecticides.
Apart from these methods of preventing the spread of malaria, the African population has its alternative methods of dealing with malaria. One of these involves use of traditional medicine. Traditional healers in Africa diagnose and treat malaria using indigenous roots, herbs, and leaves which are usually prepared and taken orally (Maslove et al. , 2009). This acts as a barrier to the fight against malaria since their diagnosis is based merely on symptoms and not diagnostic evidence which may lead to improper treatment thus further spread of malaria due to delayed treatment (Maslove et al.
, 2009). Traditionally, Africans have relied on good sanitation practices such as proper disposal of garbage and draining of swamps as a way of preventing malaria and up to date their method remains effective and aids the fight against malaria (Falola & Heaton, 2007). However, this approach ignores mosquitoes as the vectors involved in the spread of malaria thereby hampering the fight against malaria (Falola & Heaton, 2007). Though Africans have taken steps to address malaria, a lot still remains to be done.
There is a great need for education on the causes of malaria as by understanding the causes of malaria preventive and treatment strategies can be effectively implemented. There is also the need to educate the African traditional healers on malaria so that they can use better approaches in the treatment of malaria. References Falola, T. & Heaton, M. M. (2007). HIV/AIDS, illness and African well-being. New York, NY: Rochester Press. Kakkilaya, B. S. (2006). Transmission of malaria. Retrieved 23 August, 2010 from http://www. malariasite. com/malaria/Transmission. htm Leary, N. (2008).
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