Malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum (single cell organism) that is transmitted by mosquitoes. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimates that 655,000 people died of malaria. There is a tendency for people living in temperate zones to view malaria as only a disease of tropical countries. That view ignores the history.
Malaria was once widespread in the United States including Indiana. It was only through concerted government led and funded public health efforts that malaria was eliminated from the United States. Elimination was not accomplished until after World War II. Mediterranean Europe has historically been plagued with malaria. It was not until the 1970s that malaria transmission was eliminated from Greece. Malaria was still reported among immigrants to Greece over the last 40 years but local transmission (malaria contracted by people with no travel history) was not detected until 2010.Success in the elimination of malaria breeds complacency among the public and the governing elites. As malaria becomes a distant memory, malaria prevention programs are questioned and targeted for elimination. The current fad among the governing elite is “austerity” and elimination of government programs. Misguided efforts to correct budget deficits by cuts to government programs have backfired. Austerity has made matters worse by creating a downward spiral increasing unemployment which further reduces the available revenue. With so many unemployed workers, it makes sense to expand cost effective public health programs and employ more of the jobless. Cuts or elimination of prevention programs that save money and prevent misery are often penny-wise and pound-foolish. If malaria returns with a strong hold in Greece, the cost savings of underfunding malaria prevention programs will be exceeded by the costs of malaria treatment. A spread of malaria from Greece to neighboring countries should be reason enough for neighbors to make certain that malaria prevention has adequate funding.