As the members of Malaria Partners International shelter in place and practice social distancing, we have renewed appreciation for our African friends who live with the threat of serious illness, not just for a few months, but every day. In the launch of our webinar series, Malaria Partners International Secretary Frank Boosman included this slide to compare malaria, the deadliest killer of humanity, to COVID-19, the most recent threat to appear. As you will see, the two are quite different. COVID-19 is a virus while malaria is caused by a parasite. Mosquitoes are the vector for malaria while COVID-19 apparently gets around on its own.
Ro or “R naught” indicates how contagious an infectious disease is, that is, the average number of people who will catch the disease from one contagious person. For malaria, that number is highly variable, ranging from 1 to 3,000. For COVID-19, initial indications were that each contagious person was passing the disease to two to three people. An Ro of less than one means that the disease is dying out while an Ro of two creates exponential growth. Social distancing and other measures have slowed that growth in recent weeks. While the number of COVID-19 cases approaches 2.3 million worldwide, it has a way to go before matching the 220 million cases of malaria that appear each year. The IFR or “infection fatality rate,” for COVID-19 appears to be less than 1% at this juncture, although it rises significantly for people in their eighties. For malaria, the reverse is true: nearly 61% of all malaria deaths worldwide are of children under the age of 5 although the overall IFR is in the range of .2 to .45%.