Mother holding baby

What Is Malaria?

Malaria is a life-threatening disease that is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

Malaria symptoms include fever, headache, and chills. If not diagnosed and treated within 24 hours, malaria can progress to severe illness or death. In 2019, malaria accounted for 409,000 deaths (WHO report) worldwide, the majority of which occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Pregnant women and children under five years of age are the most vulnerable groups.

What Causes Malaria?

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. There are five species of Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria in humans, and two of these – P. falciparum and P. vivax – are the most harmful. The infected mosquitoes, or vectors, typically bite between dusk and dawn, and each species of Anopheles mosquito has its own preferred habitat: some, for example, prefer shallow collections of fresh water, which are often abundant during the rainy season in tropical climates.

Anopheles mosquito

History of malaria

Malaria is one of the oldest surviving diseases to plague humankind, with clay tablets from the Mesopotamia period describing deadly periodic fevers that likely suggest malaria. It likely arrived in Europe in the first century AD and spread across the continent with travelers and nomadic settlers, eventually making its way to the Americas. The malaria parasite was discovered in 1880, and the first anti-malarial drugs were developed in the 1930s.

A woman holding mosquito nets / Image credit: Lisa Goldman-Van Nostrand
Image credit: Lisa Goldman-Van Nostrand

Prevention and treatment of malaria

Malaria is preventable with the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual sprays, and antimalarial drugs. If diagnosed promptly and correctly, malaria is also curable.

Eliminating malaria

Malaria is a health security crisis that places a huge strain on half the world’s health systems, exposes gaps in basic health services, undermines economies and devastates families and communities. Eliminating malaria will spur economic development and alleviate the poverty and inequality burdening the poorest and the most vulnerable communities. Over 100 countries have already eliminated malaria — the global ambition is to fully eradicate malaria within a generation.

Smiling African woman carrying child

Where Malaria is found

Where Malaria is found