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WHO Says Malaria Control Programs Making Progress

The World Health Organization reports progress in malaria control programs is being made as effective measures against this fatal disease are becoming more widely available. WHO's 2008 Global Malaria Report presents, what it calls, its most comprehensive analysis of the world malaria situation. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the report in Geneva.

The World Health Organization estimates nearly 250 million new cases of malaria occur every year, including one million deaths. Most of those who die are young children in Africa.

Chief of Health for the U.N. Children's Fund, Peter Salama, says overall progress has been made in reducing child deaths. Since 1990, he says the number of children under age five dying from preventable diseases has declined by 27 percent.

"Although 3.5 million children's deaths, fewer deaths is certainly a positive trend, this level of child mortality is, of course, completely unacceptable," Salama said. "And, malaria is one of the primary causes of these deaths, accounting for one in 10 deaths of children under five globally and one in five in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is a disease that predominantly kills children. In fact, a child still dies of malaria every 30 seconds."

Yet, the WHO report shows progress in malaria control has accelerated dramatically since 2006. This is largely due to recent increases in funding for malaria programs.

Last year, $1.5 billion was raised in support of these programs. The World Health Organization hopes to reach $2 billion by the end of this year.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan calls this commitment by the international community a striking turnaround for malaria control.

She says money has gone toward the purchase of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, which remain effective for three years. She says it has allowed poor countries to buy the effective, but expensive anti-malaria drug, artemisinin-based combination therapy.

She says the increased financial flows also are being invested in research to develop better control tools, including a vaccine.

"This is what I call the billion-dollar moment for a centuries old disease ... The report demonstrates progress," Chan said. "Let me remind you. This progress takes place against a backdrop of decades of setbacks and painful, slow results. As the report says, decline of 50 percent or more in reported cases and deaths have been achieved in a few African countries with very high population coverage with controlled interventions."

These countries include Eritrea, Rwanda and Sao Tome. The report also notes the percentage of children protected by insecticide-treated nets increased almost eightfold, from three percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 18 African countries surveyed in 2006.

Despite these gains, the World Health Organization says much more work remains to be done. It notes in Africa only 125 million people were protected by insecticide-treated mosquito nets, while 650 million are at risk.