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WHO: Political Will, Money Can Defeat Malaria

A government health worker takes a blood sample from a woman to be tested for malaria in Ta Gay Laung village hall in Hpa-An district in Kayin state, southeastern Myanmar, Nov. 28, 2014.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports dramatic progress has been made in the fight against malaria, but more needs to be done. In advance of World Malaria Day (April 25), the U.N. agency is calling for global action to close gaps that remain in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria.

The World Health Organization says phenomenal progress has been made in the fight against malaria in the past 15 years.

Richard Cibulski, coordinator for strategy, economics and elimination in the WHO Global Malaria Program, says a 10-fold increase in funding for malaria since the year 2000 has resulted in huge expansion of malaria programs. He says more people than ever before have access to insecticide-treated mosquito nets and more people are getting diagnostic tests and appropriate treatment.

“As a result, the incidence of malaria declined by 30 percent globally and mortality rates by 40 percent globally between 2000 and 2013. Of the 106 countries with malaria transmission in the year 2000, 13 have reduced the number of locally acquired cases to zero. And, four cases are now reporting less than 10 locally acquired cases per year,” says Cibulski.

But the WHO estimates there were nearly 200 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2013 and more than 500,000 deaths. It says 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, most among children under five.

One reason the mortality rate among children is so high is that millions of pregnant women do not receive effective preventive drugs. As a result of malaria infection during pregnancy, the WHO estimates 10,000 women and between 75,000 and 200,000 infants die annually from this preventable disease.

WHO Global Malaria Program medical officer Peter Olumese tells VOA many children do not receive the right dose of medication.

“Most times when the pharmaceutical companies develop drugs, most of the studies are done in the adult population. Dosages are determined in the adult population and thereafter we extrapolate the pediatric dose, in a way treating children as small adults and it does not necessarily work out that way,” says Olumese.

The WHO says tools available for fighting malaria are inexpensive and highly effective, and preventive treatments could save tens of thousands of lives every year, but coverage needs to be significantly scaled up. This challenge is the focus of the WHO global malaria strategy, which aims to reduce the disease by at least 90 percent by 2030.

The U.N. health agency figures the cost of achieving this goal will rise from $5 billion to $9 billion a year, mainly due to population growth.

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