A child being tested for malaria

Malaria is a life-threatening disease 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 and 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 remains endemic in 91 countries across the world, with nearly half of the global population at risk. Considerable progress has been made in reducing morbidity and mortality from malaria through the provision of prevention tools such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, and through improving access to treatment. Malaria case incidence is estimated to have fallen by 37% between 2000 and 2015, and mortality rates by 60% over the same period. In addition, 7 countries have achieved malaria elimination in the last 10 years. Despite these encouraging trends, the burden of malaria remains high with a child dying from the disease every 2 minutes. In 2015, there were an estimated 212 million (range 108 – 304 million) cases of malaria worldwide resulting in 429,000 (range 235,000 – 639,000) deaths. Around 9 in 10 cases of malaria occur in Africa, with young children particularly susceptible to the life-threatening forms. 

For more information on malaria, visit the WHO malaria media centre.