With a potentially devastating malaria epidemic threatening to break out in Ethiopia, United Nations agencies are working with the country's Government to raise nearly $7 million to purchase new medicines needed to treat the disease.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are supporting the Addis Ababa authorities in attempting to rapidly mobilize the funds to supply a newer treatment known as Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) because of increased resistance to drugs now in use.
ACT, although more expensive than other therapies, could limit the devastation caused by malaria epidemics, which have been unusually severe in the last year.
"We need to generate this $6.9 million to meet the needs in the next six months and avert any epidemic that might occur," Angela Walker of UNICEF's Ethiopia office told the UN News Service.
The effort is part of the Government's Roll Back Malaria programme, an initiative to address the leading cause of death in Ethiopia. Around 6.1 million cases and between 45,000 and 110,000 malaria-related deaths occurred during a six-month period when a major epidemic struck in 2003.
Currently, some 48 million Ethiopians live in areas where they are at-risk for malaria, according to the UN.
Ms. Walker voiced concern that Ethiopia's prolonged dry spell could exacerbate conditions and spark more cases of the disease. "When people are already weakened by drought, they don't have adequate resources and food, and they are much more likely to be infected by malaria, they are much more vulnerable," she said.
The call for mobilization of funds was triggered after WHO and the Ethiopian Minister of Health undertook a study which found unacceptable resistance rates to the drug currently used.
While ACT therapy can cost up to ten times as much as older treatments, trials have proved their success rate. "These drugs are much more effective in combating malaria, especially for the most vulnerable people: pregnant and lactating mothers and children under the age of five," Ms. Walker said.