World Malaria Day takes place every year on April 25th. The World Health Organization has announced that the theme this year is to “harness innovation to reduce disease burden and save lives." The irony of this statement is that malaria is an entirely preventable and treatable disease. So why is it still a threat for so much of the world's population?
In 2020, there were 241 million malaria cases worldwide and nearly 627,000 deaths (WHO, 2022).
While the risk of contracting malaria isn’t necessarily gender-specific, women are more likely to be burdened by socioeconomic, educational, social and cultural factors that limit their ability to prevent and treat this disease. A cross-sectional study on women's empowerment and the quality of care for malaria conducted in 16 Sub-Saharan African countries demonstrated that promoting women’s empowerment within family, health, and economic systems can improve health systems.
Of those 241 million cases, more than 25 million were pregnant women (WHO, 2022).
Another study used empirical data to understand how decision-making influences malaria transmission in Malawi. They found that increasing women’s bargaining power in the home so that they have equal decision-making as parents decreases the likelihood that a family member will contract malaria by 40%. Ensuring that NGO and governmental programs and policies consider women's empowerment can help to provide women with the resources and agency that leads to a reduction in the malaria burden.
Just last year, from March 22nd-24th, 2021, there was a virtual conference held by the Women in Malaria (WIM) community to discuss the lack of gender equality in research culture, especially in malaria research. This is particularly important because of the gap between the workforce and leadership in the health sector, where women are not given the space to enter positions of authority where they can make meaningful contributions. Holding workshops on leadership and mentoring through virtual conferences is the start to remedying the lack of female leadership in the fight to end malaria.
We need more than prevention and treatment methods to eradicate malaria. By encouraging all women - the women at risk of malaria in these Sub-Saharan African regions as well as women who are involved in malaria research and healthcare - to become allies and advocate for each other, there can be a future without malaria.
For those who are interested in Women In Malaria and the upcoming 2022 training program, take a look here for the Women in Malaria Twitter page!