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date: 25 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease transmitted through the bites of female anopheline mosquitos infected with protozoan parasites. Malaria remains one of the major causes of mortality by infectious disease: in 2015, there were an estimated 212 million cases and 429,000 deaths globally, according to the 2016 World Malaria Report. Children under 5 years in sub-Saharan Africa bear the greatest burden of the disease worldwide.

However, most of these cases could be prevented or treated. Several methods are highly effective in preventing malaria: in particular, sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito net (ITN), indoor residual spraying (IRS), and taking intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women (IPTp). Regarding treatment, artesiminin-based combination therapy (ACT) is recommended as first-line treatment in many countries.

Compared with other actions, malaria prevention behaviors have some specific features. In particular, they produce public health externalities. For example, bed net usage creates positive externalities since bed nets not only directly protect the user, but also reduce transmission probabilities through reduction in the number of disease hosts, and in the case of ITNs, reduction of the vector itself. In contrast, ACT uptake creates both positive externalities when individuals with malaria are treated, and negative externalities in the case of overtreatment that speeds up the spread of long-run parasite resistance. Moreover, ITNs, IPTp, and ACTs are experience goods (meaning individuals only ascertain their benefits upon usage), which implies that current preventive actions are linked to past preventive behaviors.

Malaria prevention and eradication produce unambiguous benefits across various domains: economic conditions, educational outcomes, survival, fertility, and health. However, despite the high private returns to prevention, the adoption of antimalarial products and behaviors remains relatively low in malaria-affected areas.

A variety of explanations have been proposed for low adoption rates, including financial constraints, high prices, and absence of information. While recent studies highlight that all of these factors play a role, the main barrier to adoption is probably financial constraints. This finding has implications regarding the appropriate pricing policy for these health products. In addition, there is a shortage of causally identified research on the effect of cultural and psychological barriers to the adoption of preventive behaviors. The literature which does exist is from a few randomized control trials of few individuals in very specific geographic and cultural contexts, and may not be generalizable. As a result, there are still ample opportunities for research on applying the insights of behavioral economics to malaria-preventive behavior in particular. Moreover, little research has been done on the supply side, such as whether free or heavily subsidized distribution of prevention technologies is fiscally sustainable; finding effective methods to solve logistical problems which lead to shortages and ineffective alternative treatments to fill the gap; or training sufficient healthcare workers to ensure smooth and effective delivery. Given these gaps in the literature, there are still multiple fruitful avenues for research which may have a first-order effect on reducing the prevalence of malaria in the developing world.

Keywords: malaria, ITNs, LLINs, IPTp, ACT, IRS, Sub-Saharan Africa, health economics

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