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-- Ray Chambers is a philanthropist and humanitarian who has directed most of his efforts towards children. In 2008, the U.N. Secretary-General appointed him as his first Special Envoy for Malaria. The views expressed are his own. --

Malaria infects one quarter of a billion people each year. Nearly one million of those afflicted die, taxing overburdened health infrastructures and decreasing productivity in Africa, where 90 percent of cases occur.

In some countries on the continent, 60 percent of all outpatient visits are malaria related, with one quarter of worker absenteeism due to the disease. Taking all lost time and productivity into consideration, malaria costs Africa more than $30 billion annually.

The mosquito carrying the deadly malaria parasite makes no distinction when choosing its victim. Young or old, male or female, everyone in endemic regions remains at risk; however, International Women's Day on March 8th prompts us to examine independently the immense burden women shoulder as a result of malaria.

The disease strikes infants, children under five and pregnant women in astonishing disproportion, as these segments of the population account for 90 percent of malaria deaths. Given the dual role of women as both victim and primary protector of victims, malaria clearly belongs under the umbrella of traditional women's health issues.