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WHO, UNICEF Call for Urgent Action to Combat Malaria in Africa - 2003-04-25

To mark Africa Malaria Day, the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund are calling for urgent action to combat the disease. The agencies say malaria kills about one million people a year, nearly all of them children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.N. agencies say it is possible to drastically reduce the death rate.

A new Africa Malaria Report notes more than 3,000 African children die every day from malaria. The report calls this death toll outrageously high.

It says new effective anti-malarial drugs are not yet accessible to those who need them, and only a small number of children at risk of malaria are protected by insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

The coordinator of WHO's Malaria Control Program, Allan Schapira, says the use of insecticide-treated nets is one of the most effective and inexpensive methods for preventing malaria deaths. "If we look at the countries that have been very serious about establishing good malaria control programs like Eritrea and Tanzania, then very recent data indicates that nationwide, in Eritrea there is a reduction in malaria deaths and in malaria cases," he said. "In Northern Tanzania, there are some data indicating some 25 percent reduction in malaria mortality in areas which have achieved very good coverage by insecticide-treated nets."

Besides killing nearly one million children a year, the report says malaria causes more than 300 million acute illnesses. This creates an enormous burden on individuals, families and societies.

A World Health Organization Study estimates Africa's Gross Domestic Product would be 12 percent higher today if malaria had been eradicated years ago. But Dr. Schapira says it probably is not possible to get rid of malaria in some tropical countries in Asia and in Africa. "But, I think with the technologies we have right now with insecticide treated nets, with new combination treatments, with the knowledge of how to prevent malaria in pregnancy, we have a fantastic opportunity for making a major impact and reduce childhood mortality which should be the first goal," said Dr. Schapira. "It is unacceptable that so many children are dying from something that is preventable."

The World Health Organization says more money is needed to support malaria control programs in endemic countries, including Zambia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Senegal and Mali.

The WHO says resistance to the drug chloraquine is growing in East Africa. The health agency notes new highly effective anti-malarial combination drug treatments are available, and it says these should be made available to people at risk.

Photos courtesy WHO