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Malaria - Progress clouded by economic downturn

Deaths from malaria have fallen dramatically in the last 10 years as prevention and treatment efforts increased. However, economic problems could limit further progress according to the World Health Organization.

The estimated number of deaths from malaria was 655,000 in 2010, 36,000 fewer than in 2009.

The WHO World Malaria Report 2011 says that between 2008 and 2010 insecticide-treated mosquito nets were distributed to more than 578 million people at risk of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region.
In the past decade, 11 countries in Africa saw a decrease of more than 50 per cent in confirmed malaria cases or malaria hospital admissions and deaths. Outside Africa, malaria cases fell by more than 50 per cent in 32 of 56 countries where malaria is prevalent.

Malaria is endemic in more than 100 countries, putting half the world’s population at risk. Use of bed nets and indoor spraying prevent spread of the disease.

Maintaining progress will not be easy. Artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, can cure malaria. However, getting a diagnosis and treatment may be difficult in poor countries with limited funding and patchy health services.
Another concern is emerging drug resistance in parts of Southeast Asia. Holding the line against drug resistance requires money for surveillance and containment.

Future financial support may not be sufficient. The WHO says international funding for malaria programmes was about $1.7 billion in 2010 and $2 billion in 2011, the highest yearly amounts ever. However, this is well below the annual $5 billion to $6 billion needed to meet the WHO target of zero deaths from malaria by 2015.

The WHO says even maintaining current funding may be difficult because of recession or slow economic growth in many donor countries. By 2015 annual funding may be just $1.5 billion. Eradication of the disease remains a long way off, perhaps as long as 40 or 50 years.

Even this forecast may be optimistic since many donors have not finalised their future commitments. In any case the fight against malaria must continue in order to consolidate the ‘durable progress’ already made.

Read more on the WHO website.