The global drive to eradicate malaria is beginning to show dividends, with more than a third of the most affected African nations slashing the number of cases of the deadly infection by half, according to a new United Nations health agency report released today.
The 2009 World Malaria Report, produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), said that funding to fight the mosquito-borne disease had more than doubled, from $730 million in 2006 to $1.7 billion in 2009, allowing for a wider distribution of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and drug treatments to combat malaria around the world.
However, the report stressed that the amount of money available still falls a long way short of the $5 billion needed every year to ensure anti-malaria programmes reach enough people to meet the internationally agreed target of reversing the incidence of malaria by 2015, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
It states that an estimated 243 million cases of the infection led to a death toll of around 863,000 in 2008, with almost 90 per cent in Africa.
“While much remains to be done, the data presented here clearly suggests that the tremendous increase in funding for malaria control is resulting in the rapid scale-up of today’s control tools,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
“This, in turn, is having a profound effect on health, especially the health of children in sub-Saharan Africa,” added Dr. Chan. “In a nutshell, development aid for health is working.”
Of the 108 countries affected by malaria, at least one-third – nine African and 29 others – of the documented reductions in malaria cases of more than 50 per cent in 2008 compared to 2000, as a result of a high coverage of bed nets and artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) drug treatment programmes.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers commended the findings of the report, noting that it demonstrates that the global campaign to end deaths from the disease is succeeding.
“Thanks to unprecedented levels of funding and extraordinary collaboration among partners, the malaria community has achieved remarkable progress,” said Mr. Chambers.
“As we mark the 12-month countdown to the Secretary-General’s December 2010 deadline for universal access to malaria-control interventions, this report confirms we are on path to defeating this disease,” he added.
However, the report also warned that although high levels of external assistance were shown to be linked to decreases in the incidence of malaria, much of these funds are concentrated on smaller countries with lower disease burdens.
For example, although 50 per cent of households own at least one ITN in 13 of Africa’s 35 highest burden countries, average ownership in those States only reached 31 per cent of households – still up on previous years.
The WHO report noted that more attention needs to be given to ensuring success in large countries that account for most malaria cases and deaths.