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Fighting Malaria is a Question of Money

Malaria experts say they are making progress in fighting the disease and now it may be mostly a question of money -- a lot of money -- to conquer it worldwide.

Malaria is responsible for three million deaths a year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and mostly among children. These deaths are preventable and unnecessary, according to a group of experts who testified in a congressional hearing in Washington, DC.

Dr. Richard Feachem, the Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, presented the case of a cross-border area of South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland, where the disease has virtually been eliminated, protecting 4.7 million people.

Dr. Feachem says, "So in short, we have the bed nets, we have rapid diagnosis and treatment, we have presumptive treatment for pregnant women and we have indoor spraying against the mosquito. And we know, that where those interventions are applied at serious scale, malaria collapses."

The Global Fund has contributed nearly one billion dollars over a two-year period to fight malaria, but Dr. Feachem says it is not enough. Malaria continues to worsen in many parts of the world and has become the greatest killer of African children today.

Jack Valenti is the President of a group dedicated to fighting malaria. "It Is the greatest devastation in all recorded history including the black death in the Middle Ages. It is full-blown in every continent and the way it is going now, probably in every country on this planet," says Mr. Valenti.

But there is hope. A vaccine could be only 5 years away, despite the difficulties of preventing a disease caused by a parasite carried by a mosquito. Vaccine trials conducted in Africa have been very successful.

Dr. Melinda Moree is the Director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative known as PATH. She says that today it is money, more than science, which limits the ability to develop live-saving drugs and vaccines.

"The obstacle in the past has been the science; as a parasite is it very difficult, we don't have any vaccine against parasites. But I would say with the result from last year, now what really is the obstacle is the resources and the political will to actually move things forward and make them happen," she says.

The Global Fund has distributed 1.4 million insecticide-treated bed nets in Africa as one of the main defenses against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and is now promoting the use of combination drug therapy in countries where drug resistance is widespread. But its efforts against malaria could be seriously hurt by reduced funding -- the reality is that some money that might have been spent to fight malaria is now being used to fight other crisis, such as terrorism.