A University of Ottawa researcher has shown that the socio-economic effects of the malaria epidemic on African populations have been largely underestimated and that new research is needed to quickly gain a more accurate assessment of the situation.
The results of a study conducted by Sanni Yaya, a professor at the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Health Sciences, suggest that current research has neglected some of the macroeconomic effects of the malaria epidemic and its long-term impact on family planning.
Up until now, economists who have studied this problem have tried to assess the economic impact of the malaria epidemic by analysing the rate of GDP growth per inhabitant explains Professor Yaya. According to these analyses, the malaria epidemic dampens the economic growth of affected countries by 1.5 to 2%. However, the situation is much more catastrophic when the cost of malaria on the individual and national prosperity of African communities is taken into account.
For example, Professor Yaya lists the significant reduction in family revenue that is directly related to lost productivity, and the negative effects of malaria on family planning.
Childhood education and family structure are also affected in that the high infant and childhood mortality rates caused by malaria encourage couples to have more children to counter this risk. Larger family sizes lead parents to work longer hours, which in turn prevents them from properly raising their children states Professor Yaya in a book that has just been published by the Presses de l'Université Laval (in French).
His study shows that there is a strong correlation between the number of malaria cases and per capita health expenditures. Generally, the income levels of African inhabitants do not allow such populations to pay for all the costs associated with treating this disease, which leads many to abandon the health care system in favour of traditional healers. Moreover, the low level of health care spending per inhabitant is a significant determinant in the high prevalence of malaria on this continent.
Internationally, nearly 88% of all deaths of children under age five can be attributed to malaria. Despite efforts to reduce the incidence of this disease (through insecticide-coated insect netting, increased access to malaria medication, etc.) malaria remains Africa's most serious public health problem.
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa