Malaria killed 435,000 people in more than 90 countries in 2017, and more than 70% of these deaths occurred in people under the age of 5.
The increased mortality rate in children is due to the infection’s ability to spread rapidly in bodies with weaker immune systems. In fact, malaria can kill a child in less than 24 hours if left untreated, and because it’s hard to detect in its early stages, by the time a parent or caretaker realizes a child is infected, it could be too late.
This is especially true for people living in rural parts of Africa, where adequate health centers can be hours away.
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But this dynamic may soon change.
A breakthrough and startlingly simple model that was recently piloted in a Zambian district could hold the key to stopping malaria in its tracks, according to the New York Times.
The linchpin of the model involves widespread access to suppositories of artesunate, the drug that hospital workers inject into a child in mortal danger of a malarial brain infection.
These suppositories had been available since 2006, but the World Health Organization only approved them earlier this year.
A single suppository can buy a child up to 12 more hours, enough time to make it to a health facility, and can be administered by a parent or local health worker.
The next component of malaria intervention involves a cheap and rapid diagnostic system that can determine if a person has the infection within five minutes after a simple finger pinprick.
Finally, bicycle ambulances that can hold a parent and child and navigate over narrow roads are made available to accelerate trips to hospitals.
When this model was rolled out in the Zambian village, malaria deaths dropped by 96%.
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The model was spearheaded by Medicines for Malaria Venture, a company that invests in malaria drugs, and Transaid, a British charity that specializes in transportation.
The next step is rolling out the model to villages across the country and then, as the system takes hold, exporting it to other countries.
If widely adopted, malaria could go from being one of the most gruesome infectious diseases on the planet to finally being manageable.