Anopheles albimanus mosquito is a vector of malaria which is responsible for 2.7 million deaths worldwide a year. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: 3,367 people were infected with malaria in Saudi Arabia in 2020, and the Jazan region topped the positive cases with 3,022 or 89%, a report by the Ministry of Health revealed.

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable.

Jeddah came in second place with 147 cases, followed by Asir 113 cases, then Eastern with 107 cases, Riyadh with 47 cases, Taif with 41 cases, Mecca 36 cases, Medinah 28, Al Ahsa 21, and both the Qassim and Bisha governorate recorded 20 cases, Al Baha 15 cases, Najran 13, Hafar Al Batin 9 cases, Al-Qunfudhah 6 cases, and each of the regions of Hail and the northern border recorded 5 cases each, and Al Jawf recorded just one case.

Children most vulnerable

In 2019, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409 000 in 2019.

Children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2019, they accounted for 67% (274 000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.

In Saudi Arabia, 3,304 cases of malaria or 98% were recorded among teenagers aged 15 and above, 42 cases were recorded among children aged 10 to 15 years, 12 cases among children aged 5 to 10 years, 7 cases among children aged one to 5 years, while two cases were recorded among infants under the age of one year.

The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths.

Total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated US$ 3 billion in 2019. Contributions from governments of endemic countries amounted to US$ 900 million, representing 31% of total funding.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, called “malaria vectors.” There are 5 parasite species that cause malaria in humans, and 2 of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat.

First symptoms

Malaria is an acute febrile illness. In a non-immune individual, symptoms usually appear 10–15 days after the infective mosquito bite. The first symptoms – fever, headache, and chills – may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. If not treated within 24 hours, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness, often leading to death.

Children with severe malaria frequently develop one or more of the following symptoms: severe anaemia, respiratory distress in relation to metabolic acidosis, or cerebral malaria. In adults, multi-organ failure is also frequent. In malaria endemic areas, people may develop partial immunity, allowing asymptomatic infections to occur.

Who is at risk?

In 2019, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the WHO regions of South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and the Americas are also at risk.