OPINION: On this World Malaria Day, none of us are healthy until everyone is healthy

MaryAnn Ngozi Obidike CGU ’24 poses for a photo. (Courtesy of MaryAnn Ngozi Obidike • The Student Life)

This Tuesday, April 25, was World Malaria Day to recognize Malaria’s impact on the world. Growing up in Nigeria, I witnessed the human toll of mosquito-borne diseases first-hand. 

As children, we were frightened about getting bitten — if the front door was left open after 5 p.m., my mother would scream at the top of her lungs. When I was in high school, there were daily stories of classmates, teachers, relatives, family members, instructors and neighbors who were either sick at home or hospitalized due to malaria. 

Even with local prophylactic measures, the threat of a deadly mosquito bite never stopped. What is it about malaria and the communities it disproportionately harms that causes the public health community to turn a blind eye? 

Perhaps because of my upbringing, public health has become my passion. I’m an expert in community health, currently pursuing a Doctor of Public Health degree at Claremont Graduate University, focusing on improving human health through population-based public health interventions, and I serve passionately as an Advocacy Champion team member with United to Beat Malaria, a campaign of the U.N. Foundation. 

Through it all, I’ve learned that my voice is my power — and today, I’m using my voice to call you to action. 

The primary horror of malaria is that it can incapacitate even the healthiest adults, adolescents and children for up to months on end; just one mosquito bite can result in crippling joint pain, high fever and swelling, putting an end to work or school and, for a large percentage, causing death. 

The World Health Organization reports that while malaria-related fatalities are declining, the number of annual cases is increasing. In fact, mortality rates for vulnerable populations such as children under five and mothers remain among the highest in the world. Up to 11 percent of maternal mortality, 25 percent of neonatal mortality and 30 percent of under-five mortality are attributable to malaria. What’s more, Nigeria accounts for approximately 25 percent of global malaria cases and 24 percent of global malaria fatalities. Up to 60 percent of outpatient visits and 30 percent of hospital admissions are attributable to the disease, which overburdens an already weakened health system. 

On this World Malaria Day, these numbers represent more than mere figures. Missionaries, military personnel, diplomats and legislators are among the mobile population that travels to malaria-endemic regions, putting themselves at risk of infection. The global fight against malaria is multifaceted and needs a collaborative multisectoral approach. 

Luckily, we have the means to eradicate malaria — we just need to hold ourselves to the mission. Malaria can be prevented and treated with life-saving insecticide-treated bed nets and other malaria prevention and treatment instruments. A modest bed net can save a person’s life. Bed nets are a financially feasible method of protecting more lives from malaria; it costs only $10 to safeguard a family in need with two bed nets. In addition to bed nets, sending other malaria interventions, such as diagnostics, treatment and training for healthcare professionals, improves global and national health. 

Together with our global and country-level malaria partners, organizations and advocates, United to Beat Malaria’s efforts are having a significant impact. The malaria mortality rate has decreased by more than half since 2000. Nearly 90 percent of those who have access to bed nets use them. Since 2000, the global malaria prevention community has prevented an estimated 2 billion cases of the disease and saved 11.7 million lives. 

However, recent outbreaks such as COVID-19 and Ebola exemplify the fact that, in today’s interconnected world, these lethal diseases do not respect borders. In the global fight against ebola, constant and unwavering effort is required. There’s no room for complacency — this deadly disease is nearly eradicated, and that’s exactly why it deserves extra attention. We cannot afford to cease our efforts; in fact, we must intensify them. 

Take my words as a message to donate and become active in the fight against malaria. The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health says it best: “None of us is well until all of us are well.” Health is wealth. If we work together, we can be the generation that eradicates malaria. If we sit back and do nothing, we join the long line of global public health actors who fail to provide communities like mine with the care that they deserve. 

MaryAnn Ngozi Obidike CGU ’24 is pursuing a Doctor of Public Health degree. She is most interested in the social, cultural, political and economic determinants of health and how they contribute to population health and health inequities.

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