In the poorest nations and towns around the world, children from the most impoverished homes are twice as likely to acquire malaria compared with kids from affluent households.

The finding was published in The Lancet, and was the result of a systematic assessment and meta-analysis that established that socioeconomic development should be a mandatory part of efforts to control and eradicate malaria.

Steve Lindsay from Durham University, UK, who led the research, explained:

“The honeymoon period for malaria control is threatened by drug and insecticide resistance and donor fatigue. Since malaria control in Europe and North America was mainly achieved through advances in development (improved living conditions and increased wealth) and without malaria-specific interventions such as insecticidal nets and indoor spraying, socioeconomic development could provide a highly effective and sustainable means of control in malaria-endemic countries when combined with existing efforts.”

The team found 4,969 English-language studies published over the last 30 years that examined the association between the risk of malaria infection and socioeconomic status in kids between the ages of 0 and 15 years.

After looking at 15 studies involving 19,620 kids, the investigators found that the poorest children have approximately twice the likelihood of acquiring malaria than their wealthy counterparts. This outcome was seen across all socioeconomic statuses.

Lindsay adds, “The difference in the odds of malaria in the poorest children would probably be even greater if the studies were expanded to include children from wealthier backgrounds.”

Internationally, 2.57 billion people are in danger of getting malaria, an endemic disease in 106 nations. Each year, between 655,000 and 1.24 million people die from Plasmodium falciparum infection. Plasmodium falciparum is one of four distinct species of the malaria parasite that affect humans.

The authors concluded:

“That malaria control remains largely the preoccupation of the health sector alone is a failing of both those who work in health and those who work in international development. The disease severely compromises socioeconomic development, and its control and elimination would improve economic prosperity worldwide.”

In an accompanying comment, Jürg Utzinger and Marcel Tanner from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the University of Basel in Switzerland said:

“We agree…that investments that support socioeconomic development in malarious settings will prove an effective and sustainable intervention against not only malaria, but also a host of other poverty-related diseases, including the neglected tropical diseases.14 Such action requires innovative multi-disease, multi-intervention, cross-sectoral collaboration, coupled with further longitudinal intervention studies.”

In a study conducted just last month, it was revealed that mosquitoes infected with malaria change their smell-stimulated behavior, making them more strongly attracted to the smell of humans than uninfected mosquitoes.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald