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Gains Being Made Against Malaria

  • Carol Pearson

The world is winning the fight against malaria. Millions of lives have been saved in the past 10 years ... lives mostly of children under the age of five. A potential vaccine is being tested.

But the World Health Organization reports that new developments threaten a decade's worth of work.

The gains against malaria began when then-U.S. President George W. Bush started the President's Malaria Initiative, a program that provided millions of dollars and encouraged other donor countries and private organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make eradicating malaria a priority.

The results can be seen in both research and the number of lives being saved. The World Health Organization reports that deaths from malaria have been cut by 47 percent worldwide, and by even more - 54 percent - in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lance report

A report in the Lancet medical journal said researchers are testing a vaccine that has, so far, proven to be partially effective.

Testing done in sub-Saharan Africa showed the vaccine candidate partially protected children up to the age of 4 from getting the disease, and that protection was increased and prolonged when the children received a booster dose.

The researchers said more than 1,300 cases of malaria were prevented over a four-year period for every 1,000 children who received the vaccine and that the number increased when the children received a booster.

Rapid diagnostic testing also has made a difference. Results are available in 15 minutes so patients can be put on anti-malarial drugs quickly.

For the first time in history, many countries can now focus on eliminating the disease, according to the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, which coordinates the international anti-malaria effort.

Making more bed nets available to prevent mosquito bites also has made a difference.

Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore heads the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. She warns that despite the enormous progress, much more needs to be done.

Nafo-Traore told VOA, "We’re short of 50 percent of the resources required for the global fight against malaria."

Like most people working to eradicate malaria, Nafo-Traore is concerned that mosquitoes in Africa are developing resistance to the lowest cost insecticides.

In parts of Asia, along the Thai-Cambodian border and in Myanmar, near the border with India, the parasite that causes malaria is developing resistance to artemisinin, the main anti-malarial drug.

The Wellcome Trust, a global health foundation, funded the research in Myanmar. It reports that if artemisinin resistance spreads into India, it would be a serious threat to the global control and eradication of malaria.

Drug resistance

And, if drug resistance spreads from Asia to Africa, millions of lives will be at risk.

Ending malaria requires funding from the international community and cooperation with neighboring countries where malaria is endemic.

Dr. William Moss from the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute emphasized this in a phone call to VOA from Lubumbashi.

"If it's not done together," Moss said, "the success and gains in a particular country can be undermined by the importation of malaria from their neighbors."

Malaria still kills more than a half-million people a year, mostly infants and children under the age of 5.

Experts said ending it requires controlling the mosquitoes, developing better medicines and, ultimately, developing an effective vaccine. But time may be running out.

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