Increased funding is starting to pay off in the battle against malaria but prevention and treatment must be increased to try to halt the killer disease, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.
The WHO's World Malaria Report 2009 found significant progress in the delivery of mosquito nets and malaria drugs, thanks largely to an increase in funds to $1.7 billion in 2009 from $0.3 billion in 2003. But it said $5 billion more was needed every year to get maximum global impact worldwide.
The tremendous increase in funding for malaria control is resulting in the rapid scale up of today's control tools, WHO director-general Margaret Chan said in a statement.
This, in turn, is having a profound effect on health -- especially the health of children in sub-Saharan Africa. In a nutshell, development aid for health is working.
Around 40 percent of the world's population is at risk of malaria, a potentially deadly disease transmitted via mosquito bites. It kills more than a million people worldwide each year and children account for about 90 percent of the deaths in the worst affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.
The fight against malaria has been slowed by resistance to chloroquine, the cheapest and most widely used malaria drug, which is now common throughout Africa.
Resistance to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, often seen as the first and least expensive alternative, is also increasing.
As a result, artemisinin combination therapy drugs, or ACTs -- made by firms such as Novartis and Sanofi -Aventis -- are now regarded as the best medicines against malaria, but access to them is limited because they are expensive.
The WHO report found a marked increase in ownership of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) in 2008 from previous years -- more than half of homes in 13 of the 35 African countries worst affected by malaria have at least one net.
Use of artemisinin-based combination therapies is growing but remains low in most African countries, it said, with fewer than 15 percent of children with fever getting the drugs.
In countries that have high coverage with bed nets and treatment programs, such as Eritrea, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Zambia and Tanzania, cases of malaria and deaths from the disease have halved, the report said.
This suggests that internationally agreed targets to try to halt and reduce the malaria can be achieved if the right interventions are used widely enough, it added.
Large falls in malaria cases and deaths in places where such action is succeeding have also been mirrored by steep declines in child death rates from all causes, suggesting that malaria control efforts could help many African countries to reach a 2015 target of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality.