Global malaria deaths have dropped by about 38 per cent over the past decade, saving the lives of more than one million people, mostly children, through the efforts of a United Nations-led global partnership that put emphasis on prevention and treatment, particularly the use of insecticide-treated nets, according to a report unveiled today.
Some 43 countries, 11 of them in Africa, have seen malaria cases or deaths drop by 50 or more, according to the report by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) entitled “A Decade of Partnership and Results.”
With approximately $5 billion mobilized in a decade, coverage has risen across all interventions to prevent and treat malaria, especially the insecticide-treated nets used to prevent people from being bitten by the mosquitoes infected with the malaria-causing parasite.
Enough nets have been distributed to cover nearly 80 per cent of the population at risk in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the RBM report.
At a news conference to launch the report at UN Headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned that more remains to be done.
“Although the successes of recent years are remarkable, they need to be sustained and expanded, to prevent the disease from resurging. That is why our future goals are even more ambitious – near-zero deaths by 2015 and the elimination of malaria in 10 additional countries.
“The international community needs to go beyond business as usual, and all sectors of society will have a role to play – governments, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), researchers and health professionals, businesses and philanthropies, celebrities and ordinary individuals,” said Mr. Ban.
According to the report, it is expected that all countries in the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Region will have eliminated malaria by 2015.
Roughly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that killed almost 800,000 people in 2009, primarily young children and pregnant women. Over 90 per cent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, where the disease also costs the continent an estimated $12 billion annually in lost productivity.
Awa-Marie Coll-Seck, the Executive Director of RBM, stressed that fighting malaria is crucial to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight social development targets that aim to slash hunger and poverty, maternal and infant mortality, a host of diseases and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.
“The return on investment in malaria control and elimination is high,” Ms. Coll-Seck told the news conference. “Malaria control is one of the greatest health interventions and accelerates progress [towards] several UN Millennium Development Goals.”
She also cautioned that while the achievement in rolling back malaria has been remarkable, it remains fragile.
“We cannot afford to let the gains we have made to slip away. We need to sustain the universal coverage where we have [had] success and increase availability and access of diagnostics and treatments, particularly in high burden endemic countries,” Ms. Coll-Seck said, adding that it is critical that financial commitments be maintained and funding gaps be closed.
Geeta Rao Gupta, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), also underlined the need to consolidate and sustain the successes in the fight against malaria.
“We must continue to integrate malaria interventions with maternal and child health interventions, distributing bed nets at routine maternal and child health contact points,” she said.
International funding for malaria has seen a more than 15-fold increase since 2003, jumping from $100 million to $1.5 billion annually in 2010.
Malaria prevention and treatment benefited from the development of new, more effective drugs, rapid diagnostic tests and long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, all of which did not exist 10 years ago. Other products to combat the disease are under research or development, including a possible vaccine, according to RBM.