More than 60% of all new admissions to this MSF hospital in Aweil, South Sudan, test positive for malaria. Caption
More than 60% of all new admissions to this MSF hospital in Aweil, South Sudan, test positive for malaria.

Malaria is a deadly disease carried by Anopheles mosquitoes.

Every year, it kills hundreds of thousands of people and infects more than 200 million. More than ninety percent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with children under the age of five the most vulnerable.

Malaria is most common in poor, deprived areas.

In many cases, the disease itself is the cause of such poverty: it causes havoc on a socioeconomic level as patients are often bedridden and incapable of carrying out usual daily tasks, resulting in burdens on households and health services, and ultimately considerable losses to income in malaria-endemic countries.

This suffering and loss of life are tragically unnecessary because malaria is mostly preventable, detectable and treatable.

While more than ninety percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, the disease is present in nearly every tropical area where MSF works: from Ethiopia and Sierra Leone to Cambodia and Myanmar.

In 2022, we treated 4,286,600 cases of malaria across the world.

At MSF's out-patient department in Batil refugee camp Gandhi Pant, a nurse, escorts a patient with a possible appendicitis to a waiting ambulance. 

Batil is one of three camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State sheltering at least 113,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Blue Nile state to escape fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLM-North armed group. Refugees arrive at the camp with harrowing stories of being bombed out of their homes, or having their villages burned. The camps into which they have poured are on a vast floodplain, leaving many tents flooded and refugees vulnerable to disease. Mortality rates in Batil camp are at emergency levels, malnutrition rates are more than five times above emergency thresholds, and diarrhea and malarial cases are rising.

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Malaria: Key facts










Malaria is a parasitic infection transmitted from person to person by the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

These mosquitoes usually bite from around dusk to dawn.

Once transferred to the human body, the infection travels to the liver where it multiplies and then enters the red blood cells.

Inside the red blood cells, the parasites rapidly multiply until they burst, releasing even more parasites into the bloodstream.

There are four main species of the malaria parasite: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale.

P. falciparum is the leading cause of severe clinical malaria and death.

Malaria begins as a flu-like illness, with symptoms first occurring 9-14 days after infection. Symptoms include fever (typical cycles of fever, shaking chills, and drenching sweats may develop), joint pain, headaches, frequent vomiting, convulsions and coma.

If uncomplicated malaria is left untreated, it can become severe – around eight million cases progress to severe malaria annually.

Death from malaria may be due to brain damage (cerebral malaria), or damage to vital organs. The reduction of red blood cells can cause anaemia.

Diagnosing malaria is done with rapid dipstick tests or looking for the parasite under a microscope in a blood smear.

However, rapid tests are not always available; microscopy is not always straightforward and, as a result, diagnosis based on symptoms is still routine in much of the developing world.

Because of this, patients are often misdiagnosed, and the real reasons for their symptoms go untreated. It also means anti-malarial drugs are overused and go to waste when they are desperately needed.

The most effective treatment for malaria is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs). ACTs have low toxicity, few side effects and act rapidly against the parasite.

Today, 41 out of 54 African countries have officially changed their protocol to treat first-line malaria with ACTs. But in many places where MSF works, ACTs are scarcely available.

The global need for ACTs is estimated to be at 300 to 500 million treatment courses per year; however, in 2006, drugs for less than 90 million treatments were purchased.

A three-day course of anti-malarial pills for a baby can cost as little as 25 pence.

Long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets are an essential means of controlling malaria. In endemic areas, MSF distributes nets to pregnant women and children under the age of five, who are most vulnerable to severe malaria.

Where are MSF's malaria projects?

While 90 percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, the disease is present in nearly every tropical region where MSF works.

Click on a country below to find out more about our work there. All stats refer to 2019.

Spotlight: Fighting malaria in Burundi

Malaria: News and stories