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Malaria Cases on the Decline, But Progress Fragile: WHO Report

Dec 11, 2013 03:28 PM EST

Malaria cases may be on the decline, but progress remains vulnerable, officials from the World Health Organization concluded in their 2013 report on the disease.

Between 2000-2012, incidences of malaria dropped by 29 percent globally, resulting in 3.3 million lives saved, the majority of which were children below the age of 5, the United Nations agency said. In Africa where the disease is most rampant, mortality rates in children dropped by more than half.

Despite such strides, health officials remain concerned that without increased action, these numbers could begin to slip.

"The remarkable gains against malaria are still fragile," said Dr. Robert Newman, director of the WHO Global Malaria Program.

The number of people living in sub-Saharan Africa with access to an insecticide-treated bed is well below 50 percent, and only 70 million new bed nets were delivered to malaria-endemic countries in 2012 - less than half of the minimum required to ensure all those at risk are protected. This year saw a shift, with some 136 million nets delivered and another 200 million set for 2014. Since insecticide resistance has been detected in at least 64 countries, it's unclear how long such measures will work. For these and other reasons, Newman said new strategies and technology is needed if such progress is to be maintained during the next 10-15 years.

Access to antimalarial drugs has increased with the number of treatment courses delivered increasing from 76 million in 2006 to 331 million in 2012. Improvement here has been slow in countries where health systems are weak, with millions still without access to diagnosis and effective therapies.

"To win the fight against malaria we must get the means to prevent and treat the disease to every family who needs it," said Raymond G Chambers, the United Nations secretary general's special envoy for financing the health Millenial Development Goals and for malaria. "Our collective efforts are not only ending the needless suffering of millions, but are helping families thrive and adding billions of dollars to economies that nations can use in other ways."

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