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Malaria is one of the deadliest illnesses, posing a major threat to human life. It has existed for thousands of years in various places of the world. Malaria is caused by parasites that are spread to victims by mosquitos. This condition causes symptoms that are comparable to flu-like illnesses, such as fevers and chills. Despite it is a potentially fatal disease, it is treatable (CDC, 2016). This study examines malaria, its transmission, and the human activities that influence its occurrence. To combat this common sickness, mitigation techniques were proposed near the conclusion. Though the term ‘Malaria’ was coined in the 19th century, the disease has been in existence since ancient times as many of its typical symptoms were described in Chinese medical literature back in 2700 BCE. Since then, several discoveries have been made related to Malaria as well as its cures (CDC, 2016).
In 2015, the disease was present in 91 countries. It is estimated that in 2015, there were 212 million malaria cases and 429,000 fatalities. At the same time, efforts have been carried out in recent times to reduce the impact of malaria. This is evident from the fact that between 2010 and 2015, occurrence of malaria among people at risk reduced by 21% around the world. In the same time period, death rate among people at risk went down by 29% (WHO, 2017).
90% of malaria cases and 92% of malaria related fatalities were reported from Africa in 2015, making it the most impacted region. In affected areas, children especially the age group of below 5 is prone to infection and fatalities, constituting a striking 70% of all malaria related deaths. This disease has been one of the foremost causes of high mortality rates of children, causing a child to die every 2 minutes (WHO, 2017).
Parasites which cause Malaria are from the Plasmodium class with P. Falciparum being the deadliest malaria parasite (PAHO, 2015). People fall prey to malaria when they are bitten by an infected female Anopheles mosquito. It is noteworthy that only infected Anopheles mosquitos have the capability to spread malaria. These mosquitos get infected when they suck blood from an infected individual. Upon biting an infected person, mosquito consumes blood which includes malaria parasites. These parasites blend with the saliva of the mosquito and when the next person is bitten, they get transmitted into that individual (CDC, 2017).
Malaria transmission can also take place in the following situations: transplant of any body part, blood transfusion, and use of syringes and needles that have been contaminated with malaria blood. Another form of transmission is from a mother to her unborn child, which is known as congenital malaria. It gets spread from a mother to her expected infant prior to or in the course of the delivery (CDC, 2017).
Relation to Natural, Built and Social Environments
Malaria transmission is affected by natural, built and social environments. Climate is the chief natural environment factor that impacts all the three constituents of malaria life cycle, namely, Anopheles mosquito, parasites and humans. Areas with heavy rainfall can be breeding ground for Anopheles mosquitos. However, in order to transmit malaria, infected mosquitos must live long enough so that the parasites can accomplish their growth cycle. This cycle requires 9-21 days at around 25°C. Consequently, chances of disease transmission are higher at warmer temperatures and lower at cooler temperatures (CDC, 2015).
Built environment factors which influence malaria transmission entail man mad developments such as canals, drains, ditches, irrigation trenches. These aquatic sources, with stagnant water, fuel the growth of mosquitos. Further, during the season of harvest, agricultural areas become risky sites as farmers resting in the open fields are susceptible to mosquito bites. On the other hand, animal farms near households can reduce the risk of transmission to humans as domestic animals become an alternative option to mosquitos (CDC, 2010).
Social environment factors affecting the disease transmission primarily include socioeconomic conditions, literacy as well as cultural and societal beliefs. Financially weak populations particularly in rural areas cannot meet the expense of proper housing and mosquito nets, thereby resulting in exposure to mosquitos. Further, lack of education and awareness about the disease makes the rural people follow their ineffective cultural traditions (CDC, 2010).
Human Activities Resulting in Increase in Malaria Occurrence
Over the years, human activities have played a major role in increasing malaria occurrence around the world. Some of the principal human activities that have contributed in the prevalence of this disease include: human population movement, deforestation and irrigation schemes.
Human Population Movement
Human population movement is considered as one of the chief reasons for outbreak of malaria in regions previously free from the disease. Such human movements can be temporary or permanent. While temporary movement happens during tourism and travel; permanent movement is generally in the form of migrations, which can be prompted by various reasons such as natural calamities, economic needs, wars, disputes, etc. In the case of temporary movement, people travelling for work or vacation from malaria free areas to endemic areas are at high risk of infection if they do not exercise necessary preventive measures.
Migrations or permanent movements present more serious threats to disease occurrence. Global urban population is growing at a rapid pace as compared to rural population, with sub Saharan Africa being the fastest urbanizing region. While urbanization is generally expected to reduce malaria transmission, however in developing regions such as Sub Saharan Africa, uncontrolled, irregular and fast paced movement to urban areas can increase the risk for malaria incidence. This is largely due to substandard infrastructure and sanitation facilities. Moreover, when people migrate to sparsely populated areas, they tend to settle along water sources such as rivers or lakes, which increases the chances of mosquito bites as Anopheles mosquitos thrive in water areas (Martens & Hall, 2000).
Malaria is also regarded to be one of the most frequent causes of death and illness among refugees, making refugee camps highly vulnerable sites. With natural calamities, conflicts and civil unrests in different regions of the world, the tally of refugees has increased significantly in recent times, thereby resulting in increased migration and exposure to malaria (Martens & Hall, 2000).
Fast population growth especially in sub-Saharan Africa has led to unregulated exploitation of natural resources, particularly forests. Deforestation does not only lead to destruction of forests but it also hampers the ecosystems such as soil, climate, water resources, and plant and animal life. Destruction of forests influences the ecology of malaria by altering the temperature and humidity of affected areas. According to Uneke (2008), deforestation has been linked to rise in the threat of malaria transmission in Sub-Saharan region. Considering the political and economic factors involved in this tree cutting practice, it is expected to influence malaria occurrence in the future too (Uneke, 2008).
Irrigation has often been held liable for increase in transmission of malaria especially in sub-Saharan African region. Irrigation schemes have been viewed as breeding grounds for Anopheles mosquitos. Surface pooling, ineffective canal water management and inadequate malaria prevention measures are the primary reasons behind the growth of the disease in irrigation areas (Kibret, Petros, Tekie & Wilson, 2014).
Effective Mitigation Strategies to reduce the Occurrence of Malaria
In light of the earlier sections of the paper, following strategies have been proposed to control the occurrence of malaria:
Creating Awareness among Masses
Education should be the first measure in controlling malaria. Efforts should be made to raise awareness regarding this disease and its prevention, especially in rural areas of developing countries. Masses should be informed about the use of malaria deterrents such as bed nets, insecticides, antimalarial medication, etc.
Effective Management of Built Environment
As discussed earlier in the paper, irrigation canals, burrow pits, ditches and trenches can be breeding grounds for mosquitos. Consequently, these water sources need to be effectively managed and secured from malaria.
Socioeconomic development in Rural Areas
Though it is difficult to stop people from migrating, however, the human population movement can be reduced if living conditions are improved in the home areas of migrants. Especially, if infrastructure and socioeconomic situation of rural areas is uplifted, the need to move might be reduced.
Special Care of Areas which inhabit Migrants or Refugees
When migrants or refugees move to any region, special care should be taken to prevent the outbreak of malaria in that area. This can be done by educating the newcomers in the city and ensuring proper sanitation facilities.
Although it is difficult to eliminate cutting down of trees, however, awareness should be raised at all possible levels. It should be regularly brought into the notice of relevant authorities that deforestation is linked to rise in malaria, which in turn is disastrous for the society as well as economy.
To sum up, malaria has proved to be a brutal killer of human beings. Though death tolls have decreased in recent times, however, environmental factors along with human activities are providing the necessary breeding ground for this disease. While worldwide malaria eradication seems a very remote possibility, yet if mitigation strategies are put into practice along with political will and sufficient resources, the impact of this fatal disease can be reduced to a substantial extent.
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