An academic study published in the peer-reviewed journal "Economics and Human Biology" has found that a drastic reduction in the incidence of malaria leads to improved outcomes in education.
The article, "The impact of a malaria elimination initiative on school outcomes: Evidence from Southern Mozambique" written by Laia Cirera, Judit Vall Castello, Joe Brew, Francisco Saute, and Elisa Sicuri looked at Mozambique where "despite the significant improvements achieved over the last ten years, primary education attainment in Mozambique is still low".
The authors point out that potential reasons for this include ill health, which is "still largely linked to malaria".
In the study, the authors focus on the district of Magude, in Maputo province, where efforts have been underway since 2015 to eliminate malaria. Although this has not yet been fully successful, the incidence of the disease has dropped dramatically.
The effects on education of this reduction are then compared with the neighbouring district of Manhica which has similar socio-economic and epidemiological characteristics to find out if the positive health shock translated into improved school outcomes.
The study looked at school attendance and grades of 9,848 students from nine primary schools (four in Magude and five in Manhica) and found that the reduction in malaria led to a 28 per cent decrease in school absenteeism and a two per cent increase in students' grades.
This adds to a growing body of evidence that malaria is a huge barrier to development. Previous studies have shown malaria reduces economic growth and has a severe impact on other development indicators such as fertility and child mortality.
The authors of the current Economics and Human Biology study stress that "at the individual level, there are several channels through which malaria affects economic growth and development, one of the most important being the constraint it imposes on skills acquisition throughout life due to reduction in cognitive ability and school attainment".
This leads the authors to conclude that "these findings provide evidence on the negative impact of malaria on primary education attainment and suggest remarkable economic benefits consequent to its elimination".
Recorded deaths from malaria are on the decline in Mozambique. In 2020, the Health Ministry recorded 563 deaths, a 23 per cent reduction on the previous year. This was due to the increased coverage of the health service and campaigns to protect the public from mosquitoes through spraying homes and distributing insecticide-treated bed nets. However, malaria remains a major public health problem - according to government statistics, between January and August 2020 there were 8.36 million cases.