World Malaria Day will be celebrated for the first time April 25. It aims to focus public attention on a disease which every year kills more than one million people, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization says building up malaria control programs could save many lives. Lisa Schlein reports from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Malaria is a global public health problem. The World Health Organization says up to one-half billion people contract malaria every year. While most of these cases are in developing tropical countries, the WHO says developed countries should not be complacent.

It says about 30,000 visitors to tropical countries are infected annually. And the WHO warns climate change will probably spread the disease to areas that currently are not affected.

A spokeswoman for the WHO's Roll Back Malaria Program, Katie Gates, says malaria breeds poverty and underdevelopment in vast regions of the world. And this, she says, contributes to issues of global concern such as illegal migration and security.

She says studies show that Africa alone loses $12 billion a year in economic growth.

"Health budgets in African countries contribute a huge chunk of their limited resources to fighting malaria," she said. "It also causes people to miss work... in agriculture, in manufacturing, in mining. It causes people to go off work, lowers productivity in these countries, contributes to school children missing out on large portions of their education."

The World Health Organization says malaria is preventable and treatable. It says available tools are able to make a big difference in controlling the disease.

For instance, Gates tells VOA the mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and the use of artemisinin-based combination treatments are having a dramatic impact in reducing death and the incidence of malaria in a number of endemic countries, such as Rwanda and Ethiopia.

"And, that is two shining examples that if there is the commitment, the coordination that malaria interventions get to populations on a large-scale, that we can see significant drops in both the mortality and morbidity of malaria," she said.

The World Health Organization says investing in malaria treatments pays off. It says $2.2 billion a year for the next five years would save an additional 2.5 million lives. It says the money would prevent an additional 430 million malaria cases and generate $20 billion more in annual Gross Domestic Product in five years.