How nutrition can be used to reduce malaria burden
Malaria, transmitted to humans through infected female mosquito bites, is a severe disease affecting millions globally.
Although malaria is treatable and preventable, it remains one of the most significant public health challenges, especially among countries in the Sub-Saharan region, where nearly 90 per cent of malaria-related deaths are recorded. Besides being a significant cause of illness and death, malaria also carries major implications for nutrition.
Indeed, malaria and nutrition are intertwined since they disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations. For instance, while malnutrition is a significant risk factor for malaria, malaria usually exacerbates malnutrition. Malnutrition destroys the immune system, making people more susceptible to malaria. In turn, malaria can lead to loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting, exacerbating malnutrition.
Malaria also results in micronutrient deficiencies, especially in young children and expectant mothers. Malaria during pregnancy increases the possibility of maternal anemia, leading to poor fetal growth and underweight babies. Low birth weight, in turn, is a severe risk factor for poor developmental outcomes and infant mortality. Moreover, malaria can lead to deficiencies in iron, zinc, and vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency is a primary public concern in regions with high malaria rates because malaria usually tampers with the absorption and utilisation of vitamin A. On the other hand, iron deficiency, common in malaria-endemic areas, causes anemia and iron loss, while zinc deficiency is also common in these regions since malaria interferes with zinc absorption and utilisation.
However, it is important to note that nutrition can be used to reduce the burden of malaria. Improving nutrition can be used to fortify the immune system, resulting in immune systems less susceptible to malaria infections. Nutrition can also enhance malaria response and treatment while reducing the risks of complications and fatalities.
Indeed, several nutrition interventions can help to reduce the burden of malaria. Some of these interventions include iron and folic acid supplementation for expectant mothers, which can assist in averting maternal anemia, lowering the possibility of low birth weights, and other adverse outcomes. Another intervention is vitamin A supplementation which can lower the risk of severe malaria and improve malaria treatment outcomes, especially in children. Zinc supplementation is another nutritional intervention for malaria because it improves immune function and reduces the risk of malaria, particularly in children.
That is not all; the fight against malaria can also benefit from a campaign promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Breast milk is a good source of nutrients that can help infants from the effects of malaria. Health experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months to lower the risks of infections and improve the infant’s overall health.
Finally, the fight against malaria should, include food fortification. Experts in the fight against malaria have established that food fortification with micronutrients such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron can assist in addressing micronutrient deficiencies and improve immune function.