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Key Facts

  • Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
  • In 2012, malaria caused an estimated 627,000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473,000 to 789,000), mostly among African children.

Malaria is preventable and curable.

  • Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places.
  • Non-immune travellers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected.
  • Vector control is the main way to reduce malaria transmission at the community level. It is the only intervention that can reduce malaria transmission from very high levels to close to zero.

    For individuals, personal protection against mosquito bites represents the first line of defence for malaria prevention.

    According to the latest estimates, released in December 2013, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627,000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473,000 to 789,000).

    Malaria mortality rates have fallen by 45% globally since 2000 and by 49% in the WHO African Region.

Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, called "malaria vectors", which bite mainly between dusk and dawn.

There are four parasite species that cause malaria in humans:

  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium malariae
  • Plasmodium ovale.

Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most common. Plasmodium falciparum is the most deadly.

In recent years, some human cases of malaria have also occurred with Plasmodium knowlesi – a species that causes malaria among monkeys and occurs in certain forested areas of South-East Asia.


Malaria is transmitted exclusively through the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. The intensity of transmission depends on factors related to the parasite, the vector, the human host, and the environment.

About 20 different Anopheles species are locally important around the world. All of the important vector species bite at night. Anopheles mosquitoes breed in water and each species has its own breeding preference; for example some prefer shallow collections of fresh water, such as puddles, rice fields, and hoof prints. Transmission is more intense in places where the mosquito lifespan is longer (so that the parasite has time to complete its development inside the mosquito) and where it prefers to bite humans rather than other animals.

Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and prevents deaths. It also contributes to reducing malaria transmission.

For example, the long lifespan and strong human-biting habit of the African vector species is the main reason why more than 90% of the world's malaria deaths are in Africa.

Transmission also depends on climatic conditions that may affect the number and survival of mosquitoes, such as rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity. In many places, transmission is seasonal, with the peak during and just after the rainy season. Malaria epidemics can occur when climate and other conditions suddenly favour transmission in areas where people have little or no immunity to malaria. They can also occur when people with low immunity move into areas with intense malaria transmission, for instance to find work, or as refugees.

Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2013, 97 countries and territories had ongoing malaria transmission.

Human immunity is another important factor, especially among adults in areas of moderate or intense transmission conditions. Partial immunity is developed over years of exposure, and while it never provides complete protection, it does reduce the risk that malaria infection will cause severe disease. For this reason, most malaria deaths in Africa occur in young children, whereas in areas with less transmission and low immunity, all age groups are at risk.

Source - WHO Reports, December 2013