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WHO: Malaria Deaths Drop Dramatically

FILE - Two children and their mother rest under a mosquito net in the small village of Walikale, Congo.
FILE - Two children and their mother rest under a mosquito net in the small village of Walikale, Congo.

The World Health Organization reports there has been a dramatic fall in the number of malaria deaths since 2000 and the number of cases is also steadily going down.

Sub-Saharan Africa bears the brunt of malaria, with 90 percent of global deaths occurring there.

But this year’s World Malaria Report says Africa’s population has grown by 43 percent since 2000, with fewer people getting infected.

WHO Global Malaria Program Director Pedro Alonso says the number of people infected fell from 173 million in 2000 to 128 million in 2013. He says that is particularly good news for children, who are the biggest victims of this fatal, but preventable disease.

“Mortality in children under five, the age group, which concentrates the biggest malaria problem in terms of severe disease and death, has reduced by a staggering 58 percent," he said. "And, if we try to quantify the number of lives saved since 2000 up to 2014, we estimate that over four million deaths have been averted.”

The World Health Organization says the results are due to greater access to malaria-control interventions. It notes in 2013, almost half the people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa had access to an insecticide-treated mosquito net. It says a record 214 million bed nets will be delivered to malaria-endemic countries in Africa by the end of the year.

Alonso says greater access to rapid diagnostic tests and effective treatment also has significantly improved. He says these are not complex, expensive interventions and health systems can build on these measures.

“We also need to sustain a strong pipeline of research and development and innovation to develop new tools," he said. "We face significant challenges ... with the emergence and spread of artemisinin resistance, particularly in Southeast Asia. We need to tackle that problem and we can tackle it in bold ways ... by developing new drugs that could potentially take over from ACTs [Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy] if and when they fail that resistance spreads.”

Another sign of progress is the increasing number of countries moving toward malaria elimination. In 2013, WHO says two countries - Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka - reported no cases of malaria, joining 11 countries including Argentina, Egypt, Iraq, Oman, and Turkmenistan that succeeded in maintaining zero cases.

But the report says indoor residual spraying has decreased in recent years and insecticide resistance has been reported in 49 countries. The WHO also says only about one half the $5.1 billion needed to prevent and control malaria has been received.