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Anti-Malaria Decade

April 23, 2010

Malaria is still threatening 40 percent of the world's population, most of them in poor countries. To eradicate the disease, five billion US Dollars annually would be needed. But funds are not adequate.

Mosquito net
Mosquito nets are cheap and effective in preventing malariaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Ten years ago, the member nations of the UN pledged to halve the number of those infected with or killed by malaria by 2010. In addition, they pledged to provide mosquito netting and emergency medication for eighty percent of those living in regions prone to malaria. The "Decade to Roll Back Malaria" will conclude in a few months, yet most countries will fall short of the goals. Even though the campaign has succeeded in reduced the number of deaths by about 200,000 per year, every year, up to a million people still die of the disease. Annually some 250 million people get infected with malaria - almost all of them in developing countries.

Map of the World showing areas with high Malaria risk
Malaria is endemic in tropical and subtropical regions

Affordable protection against Malaria

Because mosquitoes contracting the malaria virus are active at night, nets remain the most effective way to prevent the spread of malaria. Ideally, netting should be widely distributed in all regions where malaria is common, to protect people from mosquito bites. After all, netting is inexpensive but very effective.

"Only by using nets, you can have more than 25 percent decrease in deaths for children under five and more than 50% decrease in the cases of severe malaria.” Awa Marie Coll-Seck of the WHO's Anti-Malaria Program told Deutsche Welle. “In Ethiopia, they have been able to distribute around 20 million nets in two years, and the decrease has already been more than 50 percent." Insecticide-treated mosquito nets can be used for five years on average.

By 2008, the World health organization had distributed 140 million nets in Africa alone as part of the "Decade to Roll Back Malaria." Hence, in Equatorial Guinea and some other regions the number of malaria cases has halved after more than fifty percent of households received mosquito nets.

Mixed results for the roll-back malaria campaign

Child playing with mosquito net
Most malaria deaths affect African childrenImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

But the bigger picture doesn't look that good as the decade to roll back malaria comes to a close. Malaria is still endangering 40 percent of the world's population in 108 countries. Africa is most affected by the disease, and only nine countries in Africa have been able to effectively reduce the number of malaria infections and deaths. There are multiple reasons why the fight against Malaria is particularly difficult in Africa. One is lack of knowledge. Many people in malaria-prone regions still don't know enough about the disease, and they don't understand how to use mosquito nets properly.

“There have been some anecdotal stories, particularly of using the nets for fishing. This was at the time where, for example, in some countries, people did not use to have nets, and they were also not educated to use nets.” said Awa Marie Coll-Seck.

“This is why it's not only about distributing them, but also [we ] have a lot of work to do at the community level to have some strategy for behavior change, communication and to ensure that the people will use these nets."

The results are also mixed when it comes to distributing malaria medication to patients. On the one hand, more patients in developing countries receive anti-malaria medication compared to 2006. However, the majority of the population in most poor countries still has very little access to appropriate treatment. In 11 of 13 countries recently monitored, less than fifteen percent of infected children under age five received effective anti-malaria drugs. Children. The WHO's goal is to reach 80 percent of malaria-patients.

No success without adequate health systems

Patients suffering from malaria being treated at a hospital in Pailin, Cambodia.
If not treated promptly, malaria can cause severe illness and is often fatal.Image: AP

At the moment, Malaria is being treated with so-called ACTs, drugs basen on artemisinin, which is derived from a plant grown in China. While enough drugs exist, there are problems with getting them to patients.

“To get access to treatment, you need to have a good health system” said Awa Marie Coll-Seck of the WHO. “Now this is something that we need to work on to ensure that people can access the services."

But in many countries, particularly in Africa, well-functioning health systems are not in place. Many countries do not have enough money for hospitals, doctors nor medications. Lack of infrastructure makes the problems worse. In southern Sudan, for instance, there is one doctor for every 100,000 citizens, and in many regions, like in the eastern part of DRC, there are only very few streets, so it is extremely difficult to transport medicine to clinics. At the same time,

Searching for new strategies

That is why many NGOs are now calling for a new strategy: they want to mobilize and educate local people. For instance, the German organization Medeor is teaching people in Togo what they can do to combat the disease. That includes drying out swamps, or throwing out plastic containers, since those are places where mosquitoes love to breed. Susanne Schmitz of Medeor:

But the efforts have to be sustainable "Our partners have noticed that occasional seminars or activities do not suffice” said Susanne Schmitz of Medeor. She added that there is no way to ensure that the people really follow through with what they learn if information events only happen once a year. “That's why our partners here decided that the village communities and inhabitants have to be mobilized to take part actively in the fight against malaria."

But despite the good intentions of those wanting to help, money remains a crucial problem. According to the WHO, five billion dollars would be required annually to eliminate malaria. But in the last ten year, the WHO has collected only 2.7 billion in total to fight Malaria. That's also due to the fact that many countries haven't kept to the sums they had pledged to dedicate to the fight against malaria. And that's especially wealthy industrial nations, where malaria isn't a problem.

Author: Asumpta Lattus

Editor: Anke Rasper