DID YOU KNOW?
FIVE UNTOLD FACTS ABOUT MALARIA
The 25th of April is World Malaria Day! Occurrences of Malaria are no stranger to Africa and Southeast Asia. In 2018, an estimated 228 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide. Those at higher risk of contracting malaria and developing more severe illnesses include pregnant women, infants, children under five years, those with compromised immune systems, travelers and mobile populations.
There are so many things about malaria that are unknown. This is why I will be using this blog post to inform you about some lesser known malaria facts.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…?
Malaria during Pregnancy Can Alter Babies’ Immunity!
Image by Sharma L and Shukla G, (2017) Placental Malaria: A New Insight into the Pathophysiology. Front Med. 4:117
When pregnant women are infected with the parasite during pregnancy, they can pass their own cells to their offspring, changing their baby’s future immunity. The placenta allows for the exchange of cells between mother and child – this phenomenon is known as Microchimerism. Researchers discovered that babies from malaria-infected mothers and whose infections traveled to their placentas, had higher rates of maternal microchimerism. Though these babies were twice as likely to be infected with malaria in childhood, only half were likely to get sick. This suggests that the cells from mothers might give some protection against the disease! The research posed two questions yet to be answered: Are the mother’s immune cells directly recognizing and acting on malaria parasites in the child’s body OR are they acting indirectly by teaching the child’s immune system how to recognize and react to the pathogen?
Coffee, Chocolate, Other High Demand Commodities Are Malaria Risk Factors!
It is difficult to think that the mug of coffee you relish every morning has an impact of increasing the risk of contracting malaria for people living somewhere else in the world, isn’t it? Well, as surprising as it might seem, there is scientific evidence of this. About 20% of malaria risk in deforestation hotspots is driven by the international trade of deforestation-implicated exports such as timber, wood products, tobacco, cocoa, coffee and cotton. Here is a simple breakdown of the entire cycle: in a bid to satisfy demand for these products, deforestation and other rainforest disturbances become the norm, leading to warmer habitats and less predators. The resulting conditions are ones that mosquitoes thrive in, therefore increasing the risk for malaria transmission.
How ironic it is that the same resource that provides income to low-income countries is the same resource that increases risk. The brunt of it is felt by these low-income nations whose consumption of these products is negligible.
So, how then do you play your own part in the fight against malaria? You can start by reducing your consumption of those commodities, and when you do purchase, steer away from sources that are associated with deforestation. Here are some companies with products that have concern about the environment: Ikea, Bar and Cocoa, Tentree, Mondelez International, Numi Tea, Toms and Seventh Generation.
It might seem like a lot of work but think of the fact that you are helping reduce malaria transmission in low-income nations, and also reducing biodiversity loss and greenhouse effects!
Beer Increases Attractiveness to Malaria!
Studies carried out in Japan in 2002, Burkina Faso in 2010, Myanmar in 2011 all had similar conclusions – they showed that beer consumption is a risk factor for malaria. That is right, moderate and chronic alcohol consumption can have strong immunosuppressive effects. People who drink alcohol are at higher risk of exposure to malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and can be vulnerable to plasmodium parasites. Drinking alcohol increases your human attractiveness to malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, in other words-they love you.
So, how about you start reducing your intake of alcohol? As refreshing as it seems, it should be obvious to you by now that the downsides certainly outweigh the good, right? During this period of lockdown, it is understandable if you have chosen to stare down the bottle more often than not. But how about you pace yourself and think a bit more about your health? Malaria is just one in the long list of diseases you are at risk of with continued alcohol consumption.
Mockup Malaria Drugs are on the High!
Every year, thousands die from the ingestion of mock-up antimalarial drugs! An estimated 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low-and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified. Not only are these people wasting hard-earned money on bogus medicines, they are also exposing themselves to worse conditions and risking their lives, as these drugs fail in treating malaria. This also exposes malaria sufferers to adverse drug reactions. Proper measures need to be taken and drug-monitoring bodies need to work efficiently to curb this vile practice.
The Malaria Parasite Is Smart!
The malaria parasite is constantly evolving as situations change! Ever heard of the rosette phenomenon? This is a new mechanism that has been recently discovered. You see, malaria parasites can sense a molecule produced by approaching immune cells and then, they use it to protect themselves from destruction! When malaria parasites are maturing in blood cells, the immune system detects them as intruders. So, the parasites evolved ways to evade the immune response. Infected malaria blood cells attach to non-infected red blood cells forming a flower-shaped structure called a rosette. Since the parasites are hitched to the healthy red blood cells in the form of this rosette, the immune system is incapable of detecting the parasite. This non-detection makes the immune system unable to clear the malaria parasite from the blood and subsequently, the parasite will continue to thrive and infect the malaria sufferer. This is an incredible mechanism displayed by malaria parasites. And fully understanding this mechanism could help to develop more effective antimalarial drugs.
So many facts abound about malaria, the good – how much progress has been made in the fight; the bad – how many lives this disease still claims; and the weird – like the fact that malaria parasites are vampires that love beer! All the same, there is one fact that remains constant in all of it and that is the fact that malaria is a preventable disease! The best cure for malaria is Ending Poverty, Education, especially women education, and Prevention! Insecticidal nets, genuine antimalarial drugs, insecticide-they are all effective in malaria prevention but can only work when access to them, as well as the knowledge, exists.
Malaria is not going to end today but being aware and using collective efforts will contribute to its eradication.