WHO reports progress and challenges ahead in fight against malaria

Global investment in the fight against malaria has yielded astounding results through the scaling up of medical treatment and preventive measures, such as providing insecticide-treated bed nets to affected communities. But the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners caution that this progress is fragile. The warning comes in the World Malaria Report 2010 launched on Tuesday. Dianne Penn reports.

Spread by mosquitoes, malaria kills nearly one million people a year, many of them children. But global action on the financial, medical and coordination fronts to stamp out this disease is working, according to the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan.

DR CHAN 1: Artemisinin-based combination therapies, in short ACTs, are our most effective anti-malarial drugs. World-wide, the number of ACT treatment courses procured increased from just over 11 million in 2005 to 158 million in 2009.

Investment in malaria control also includes a dramatic rise in the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets in Africa. Dr. Chan says this number has come “tantalizingly close” to the target of 350 million. And millions of people are also being protected through indoor spraying against mosquitoes. Dr. Thomas Teuscher is with the Roll Back Malaria campaign which coordinates the global fight against the disease:

DR TEUSCHER: I am truly encouraged by these latest data. It shows that the recent intensification of malaria control activities has resulted in a reduction of more than 50 per cent in the malaria burden in many African countries.

The World Malaria Report 2010 weaves together data from governments, health facilities, household surveys and other sources in the 106 countries where malaria remains endemic. According to Dr. Chan, sub-Saharan Africa is the “heartland” for malaria with 43 of these countries located in the region. And she warns that progress remains vulnerable.

DR CHAN 2: Current methods of malaria control are highly dependent on a single class of insecticides, the pyretheroids, and on a single class of effective drugs, the ACTs. Based on historical patterns, mosquito resistance to insecticides and parasite resistance to drugs must be anticipated.

Malaria has been with humanity since the dawn of time. And although the number of deaths is declining, the report stresses that the anti-malaria momentum must be maintained. Ray Chambers is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria:

CHAMBERS 1: With the incredible progress that has been achieved, the focus must be on maintaining coverage and ensuring high levels of utilization while increasing efforts to expand access to effective treatment and diagnosis to achieve the Secretary-General’s goal of reaching near-zero deaths from malaria by 2015.

In January, the World Health Organization and the Roll Back Malaria partnership will launch a global plan to contain artemisinin resistance. Dianne Penn at the UN.

Duration: 3’07″

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