Malaria is widespread in the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan, accounting for up to 30 percent of all diseases treated by health facilities. Aid groups and the government of southern Sudan are set to distribute three million bed nets later this year as one way of fighting the scourge.

Eighteen out of 44 babies in Juba Teaching Hospital's children's ward in the southern Sudanese capital are sick with malaria on this early April afternoon.

Nine-month-old Joshua has been here for a week. His mother, Betty Pita, says Joshua was in bad shape when he arrived.

"Through the vomiting and then the diarrhea, that that is why I came to know that he is affected with malaria," she said.

Malaria is the number one killer of children in southern Sudan.

Pregnant women are also vulnerable to contracting, and dying of, malaria.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of people in southern Sudan who suffer, or die from, malaria.

Southern Sudan had been at war with northern Sudan for more than two decades. Under the terms of a 2005 peace accord, southern Sudan was granted semi-autonomous status for a six-year period until a more permanent solution can be worked out.

The post-war administration is grappling with how to develop quality health care services in a vast, resource-poor area that is only now beginning to be developed.

It is a problem that acting county medical officer Dr. Paulino Pitia faces at Terekeka Health Centre, about an hour's drive from Juba.

Dr. Pitia says that he sometimes has to send patients to the market to buy malaria drugs because roads are impassable during the rainy season, and hence drugs and other vital supplies do not reach the clinic.

He says that patients have to walk up to 16 kilometers to get medical attention.

"Patients brought from the rural areas there, they spend more than two days suffering with the malaria. Automatically, when they reach here in that serious [condition], we sometimes lose that patient. That is common," he said.

Malaria is a parasite that is transmitted to humans from the bite of an infected mosquito.

Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and bite most commonly in during Sudan's rainy season, which runs from April to November.

The use of bed nets has been proven to cut down malaria transmission by as much as 50 percent and reduce the number of children dying from malaria by 20 percent.

To that end, the health aid group PSI and the government of southern Sudan last year distributed one million bed nets.

"Anecdotal evidence that we have indicates that there are less people presenting in health facilities with fever and suspected malaria," said Marcie Cook, country representative for PSI.

Amailia Paulino used her bed nets to protect two of her four children from contracting malaria. She says the results were dramatic.

"The small children who are currently using mosquito nets are not being exposed to malaria, which means that they will not get sick from malaria. Those other small children do not have nets. When I compare the cases, those children get malaria and the ones who sleep under the net do not," she pointed out.

With support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, PSI and the government of southern Sudan plan to distribute three million additional nets by the end of this year.

Health activists say continual support from the Global Fund and donors is needed to diagnose, treat and prevent further deaths from malaria.