Noting that the death toll from malaria remains “outrageously high,” killing more than 3,000 African children every day, two leading United Nations agencies challenged the global community today to urgently increase funds to provide new effective treatment to those most at risk.
“Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds, and remains one of the most important threats to the health of pregnant women and their newborns," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which together with the World Health Organization (WHO) produced the Africa Malaria Report.
“We have the knowledge and the potential to achieve our target of reducing the global burden of malaria by half by 2010, but we need much greater investment and political commitment," she added.
The report, officially launched in Nairobi by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya in commemoration of Africa Malaria Day, notes that an estimated 20 per cent of the world’s population – mostly those living in the poorest countries – is at risk of contracting malaria, which causes more than 300 million acute illnesses and kills at least one million people every year. Ninety per cent of the deaths occur in Africa south of the Sahara, with most of the victims children under the age of five.
"The Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Initiative has made considerable progress since it was launched in 1998, but we need to increase efforts to combat a devastating disease which is holding back the development of many African countries," WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said in reference to the plan launched with the objective of halving the global burden of malaria by 2010.
“Malaria continues to tighten its grip on Africa,” she added. “By scaling up our efforts, we can reverse this trend."
The report stresses that new effective anti-malarial drugs are not yet accessible to the majority of those in need and only a small proportion of children at risk are protected by highly effective insecticide-treated nets (ITNs).
It recommends increasing global investment to support programmes to control malaria in endemic countries; according higher priority to malaria on the health agenda of endemic countries; encouraging greater private sector involvement in the national supply and distribution of quality antimalarial drugs and insecticide treated nets (ITNs); and ensuring availability of the new generation of highly effective antimalarial combination drug treatments to populations at risk.
It also notes that proper use of ITNs, combined with prompt treatment at community levels, can reduce transmission by as much as 60 per cent and the overall young child death rate by at least one fifth. In Tanzania, a three-year community pilot project has seen the proportion of infants sleeping under ITNs rise from 10 to 50 per cent and the child death rate fall by more than a quarter. Similarly, a community programme in Zambia achieved net coverage of more than 60 per cent of individuals at risk.
Since the launch of RBM, international spending on malaria has more than trebled to a current figure of $200 million a year. Comprehensive strategic plans to tackle malaria have been developed in more than 30 endemic African countries and significant additional resources secured to implement these plans from the new Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
RBM is a global partnership including malaria endemic countries, bilateral and multilateral donors, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations, and has succeeded in raising global awareness of malaria, generating increased resources and achieving consensus on the tools and priority interventions required to control the disease.