The numbers vary in each report you read, but the facts do not. Almost all scientists and evolutionary biologists believe that malaria is the single greatest cause of human death ever. And not just humans of today, but all humans, ever to have walked the face of this earth. The tiny malaria-causing plasmodium, and its deadly ally the anopheles mosquito, have single handedly caused more human deaths than any other cause.
In the twenty first century, malaria is not the greatest cause of human death. In fact, it doesn’t even feature in the list of top ten killers. However, in impoverished countries like those in sub-Saharan Africa, it remains one of the leading causes of death. Unhygienic conditions, lack of education and malnourishment all contribute to the spread of the disease in these areas.
But it is not recent times that have propelled malaria to the unwanted number one spot on the list of all time killers. The first cure for malaria was not discovered until modern times, so before that people were at the mercy of the disease. In early times, malaria was rampant. Entire settlements were wiped out at once, and people didn’t know what to do about it. It was very rare for a person to recover from malaria. As people started exploring and discovering new lands, the disease also spread, and found new victims. Gradually the disease spread all across the face of the earth, killing millions of people. Given that humans have been around for more than a million years, it is perhaps not surprising that so many malarial deaths have occurred. Some experts claim that malaria has killed more than half of all the humans that ever lived. This may seem extreme, but it may well be true.
Today malaria is not the greatest killer but it is still a big problem. In 2012, an estimated 627,000 people died of malaria. 90% of these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, and around 77% of the victims were children under 5. Horrifyingly, almost one-fifth of children in this region are born with the parasite, and less than 5% sleep under protective nets.
Despite the efforts of organisations like UNICEF and WHO and the support provided by developed countries, there are no signs of malaria being eradicated in the near future. However you can still contribute. There are hundreds of organisations and websites through which you can donate money and resources for malaria victims.