Deaths from malaria have halved in the last decade

24th Dec 2014

Malaria is one of the oldest diseases known to man and claims millions of lives each year. But global efforts in the past decade have helped to halve the number of deaths from malaria – which has been hailed as a tremendous effort by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO says between 2001 and 2013, 4.3 million deaths were averted, 3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to a combination of initiatives and financing to provide mosquito nets to affected areas and greater access to treatment. In 2004, 3% of those at risk of malaria had access to mosquito nets, but now 50% do. Similarly the WHO says there has been a scaling up of diagnostic testing, and more people now are able to receive medicines to treat the parasitic infection, which is spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes.

World Malaria Report 2014 - full report
Percentage change in Malaria mortality rates, 2000-2013 (Source: World Health Organization estimates Malaria Report 2014)

Globally, an estimated 3.2 billion people are at risk of being infected with malaria and developing the disease. Children aged five and under and who live in Africa account for 78% of all malaria deaths. Young children, pregnant women and individuals with a weakened immune system, are at particular risk of developing a serious illness if they become infected with malaria. And whilst malaria is indiscriminate in who it affects, the heaviest toll is on the poorest and most vulnerable communities. An estimated 278 million people in Africa still live in households without a single insecticide-treated bed net, and about 15 million pregnant women remain without access to preventive treatment for malaria.

Africa is most affected by the disease, accounting for around 90% of all malaria deaths. But with a global incentive to increase funding and tackle the problem over the past decade, there has been a significant reduction in the number of malaria cases and deaths. The number of people infected has fallen by a quarter – from 173 million in 2000 to 128 million in 2013. This is despite a 43% increase in the African population living in malaria transmission areas. There is still no vaccine or cure for malaria and prevention is one of the best ways to fight the disease. Awareness campaigns and initiatives that provide mosquito nets to prevent mosquito bites have helped to reduce the incidence of the disease – 49% of at-risk people in sub-Saharan Africa now have access to mosquito nets.

In another significant development in the fight against malaria. There is an increasing number of countries moving towards the elimination of malaria. In 2013, two countries – Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka – reported zero indigenous cases for the first time, and 11 others (Argentina, Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Oman, Paraguay, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) succeeded in maintaining zero cases.

WHO Director General, Dr Margaret Chan, said: “These tremendous achievements are the result of improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing.”
But she added: “We must not be complacent. Most malaria-endemic countries are still far from achieving universal coverage with life-saving malaria interventions.”
Emerging drug- and insecticide-resistance continued to pose a major threat, and if left unaddressed this could trigger an upsurge in deaths, she warned.

Although malaria funding totalled $2.7bn (£1.7bn) in 2013 – a threefold increase since 2005 – it is still significantly below the $5.1bn needed to achieve global targets for malaria control and elimination, says WHO. There are also fears that the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa may set back the malaria fight.
Rachel Kayani

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