By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Malaria is a disease posing a great economic and social burden on developing countries of the world. It imposes substantial costs to both individuals and governments, impairs productivity, leads to days of work lost and kills thousands each year.
Cost of malaria (Direct costs)
There are direct as well as indirect costs of malaria. Direct costs to patients and their family includes purchase of drugs for treating malaria at home and travel to and treatment at dispensaries and clinics.
There are indirect costs including lost days of work, absence from school, expenses for preventive measures especially before travel to zones where risk of malaria is high. Direct costs (for example, illness, treatment, premature death) have been estimated to be at least US$ 12 billion per year in the United States according to Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
Cost of malaria (Indirect costs)
There are several cost issues to the Government as well. This includes:
maintenance of health facilities, malaria clinics and dispensaries for diagnosis and outpatient treatment of the condition
purchase of drugs and supplies
public health interventions against malaria including regular sprays of insecticides and distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets
The Government also incurs costs from lost days of work with resulting loss of income, loss of opportunities for joint economic ventures and tourism. Loss is also from brain damage due to cerebral malaria, complications due to falciparum malaria requiring long term morbidity and death of an earning member in the family. The indirect costs are several times more than direct costs.
Malaria and economic development
Malaria is associated with poverty and is also a cause of poverty and a major hindrance to economic development of a country. Tropical regions around the equator including countries in Africa are worst affected. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, malaria was the major factor in the slow economic development of the American southern states.
For example, a comparison of average per capita GDP in 1995, adjusted for parity of purchasing power, between countries with malaria and countries without malaria gives a fivefold difference ($1,526 USD versus $8,268 USD).
Further countries at high risk of malaria show an average rise of average per capita GDP between 1965 and 1990 of only 0.4% per year, compared to 2.4% per year in other countries. Malawi, for example, spends 32% of their annual income on malaria compared with the 4% of household incomes from low-to-high groups. In Africa malaria costs $12 billion USD every year.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)