In the US, back-to-school season is an exciting and nerve-wracking time. It’s where we get to shop for school supplies, learn about the complications of friendships, explore new subjects, and much more. But for millions of children around the world, going back to school is a privilege complicated by numerous barriers – including malaria.
Malaria is a leading cause of absenteeism among children in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 200 million children are at risk of contracting the disease, which can cause significant cognitive impairment.
Recovering from malaria or caring for a sick younger sibling can keep a child out of school for days or even weeks. Malaria is estimated to cause between 5-8% of all absenteeism among African schoolchildren, which is equivalent to 50% of all preventable absenteeism. Malaria not only keeps kids at home, it also can stunt their long-term development. Complications from malaria – including severe anemia, respiratory distress, and cerebral malaria (CM) – are life-threatening and can lead to sustained brain injuries and long-term neurologic and cognitive deficits, including the development of ADHD, depression, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors. Studies have shown a direct correlation between acute malaria and subsequent drops in math and language scores.
So how do we reduce malaria’s impact on childhood education and development? A key part of the solution involves the schools themselves. Schools across Africa incorporate malaria education into their curriculum, and can serve as a location to deliver life-saving malaria prevention to children. In Mali, malaria education interventions had a substantial impact: “schoolchildren who received a malaria control package delivered by teachers were more than 95% less likely to be infected with malaria parasites than a control group.” The impact of malaria education extends beyond the classroom: the kids take what they’ve learned and educate their family members on how to prevent and treat the disease.
Visit beatmalaria.org and learn more about how you can provide malaria prevention, treatment, and education that keep kids safe from mosquitoes and help them realize their full potential.