Mother and child lying under the long-lasting insecticidal net that they have just received. Suburb of Niamey, Niger
Mother and child lying under the long-lasting insecticidal net that they have just received. Suburb of Niamey, Niger

The World Health Organization says fewer children are dying from malaria because of greater use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and better treatment.  While significant progress has been made, WHO says malaria programs must be stepped up drastically to meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals of cutting malaria deaths in half by the year 2015.  WHO's newly released World Malaria Report 2009 provides data from 108 countries. 

The World Health Organization reports half of the world's population is at risk of malaria.  About 243 million malaria cases occurred last year, killing nearly 900,000 people.  Most of those who died were children in sub-Saharan Africa.

WHO says money can mean the difference between life and death.  This year, the International community provided $1.7 billion, which is more than double that received in 2006. 

Director of WHO's Global Malaria Program, Robert Newman, says better funding has made it possible to distribute more life-saving insecticide treated mosquito nets and treatment to vulnerable people. 

He says remarkable results have been achieved in places where malaria control interventions have dramatically increased.

"In countries and areas that have achieved high coverage with bed nets and anti-malaria treatments, such as Eritrea, Rwanda, Sao Tome, Zambia and the Island of Zanzibar and the United Republic of Tanzania, recorded cases and deaths due to malaria have fallen by 50 percent or more demonstrating that the Millennium Development Goal or MDG target for malaria can be achieved if there is adequate coverage with malaria control interventions," said Newman. 

Senior malaria advisor to the U.N. Secretary-General, Alan Court, says this year, Nigeria has distributed 15 million nets to 30 million people or one-fifth of its population.  And, he says it plans to deliver bed nets to all 36 states by the end of 2010. 

But, he notes delivering bed nets alone is not enough to end malaria deaths. These nets must be used and this means peoples' behavior must change. 

"This month, December 2009, Nigeria's religious leaders gathered to launch an unprecedented effort called "Faiths United For Health," involving up to 300,000 faith leaders of different faiths who will work across the country to boost the use of long-lasting insecticidal nets," said Court. 

The report finds one-third of all African households own at least one insecticide-treated net and more children under age five are sleeping under these nets.  It says more than one-third of the 108 countries affected by malaria have cut malaria cases by more than 50 percent in 2008 compared to 2000. 

The report also says the use of artemisinin-based combination therapies is increasing but remains low in most African countries.

The World Health Organization says findings in the report are a cause for cautious optimism.  But, it warns much of the progress could be reversed if funding is not increased. 

It says the amounts available still fall short of the $5 billion needed every year to ensure high coverage.