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Researchers Find Key to Malaria Elimination

Malaria researcher Sornsuda Setaphan prepares blood samples at hospital in Pailin, Cambodia (file photo)

A new study concludes that malaria, the often lethal, mosquito-borne scourge of the tropics, could be eliminated in most parts of the world in the next decade if transmission rates could be dramatically reduced in areas where the disease is endemic.

Researchers predict the most deadly form of the disease, caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, could be eradicated if transmission by mosquitoes could be rolled back to roughly 2007 levels.

Scientists created a database using mathematical models and global maps of areas where the disease has been successfully eradicated, including the United States, many European nations and several countries on the verge of elimination.

The study, which assesses the feasibility of worldwide eradication, was led by Andrew Tatem of the University of Florida. Tatem says there are a number of factors that have helped countries successfully eliminate the mosquito-borne illness.

" Such as relatively low levels of malaria risk to start with, political stability, a good health system and low levels of population movement bringing in infections from elsewhere," Tatem explained.

According to the report, elimination of malaria is possible in endemic countries which make a long term commitment to widespread use of proven control measures such as insecticides and protective bed nets.

Tatem, a professor with the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute and Center for African Studies, says some 32 countries with endemic malaria have made significant progress in wiping out the disease within their borders.

Another 70 nations, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, are at the bottom of a list the researchers compiled ranking countries most likely to eliminate the disease. These countries include Angola, Chad, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - nations plagued by political instability.

Tatem says the study is intended to help policy makers focus resources where there are the best chances of success.

"There are possibilities now for those countries really at the edges of malaria distribution - the tools and the knowledge and organization exists to possibly eliminate malaria from those countries," Tatem said.

Each year, malaria kills more than a million people who live in endemic countries. Ninety percent of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where Tatem says there are some signs of success. Tatem says the study shows that some countries, including Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana, have increased their malaria control efforts.

The article describing global distribution of malaria and elimination efforts is published in the journal The Lancet.