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Malaria deaths halved

December 9, 2014

The World Health Organization's annual global report on malaria shows that the mortality rate from the disease has halved since the turn of the millennium. Ebola threatens progress in western Africa, however.

Image: Alan R. Walker / CC BY-SA 3.0

The number of deaths caused by malaria has almost halved since 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

According to the UN health agency's annual report on the disease, between 2000 and 2013, malaria deaths worldwide were down by 47 percent and by 53 percent among children under the age of five.

In Africa, where about 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur, figures were also down by 54 percent.

The dramatic fall in fatalities is due to more people being diagnosed, treated and getting bed nets, said the WHO.

"These are truly unprecedented results and phenomenal news in terms of global health," said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO's global malaria program, who attributed the progress in large part to increasing financial and political commitment, in particular regional efforts to work together to eliminate the disease.

Fragile progress

The organization warned, however, that any gains made in combating the disease remain fragile. In some Ebola-stricken areas, in countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the Ebola breakout has halted malaria programs due to the huge strain on health services.

"The collapse of health systems has affected all core malaria interventions and is threatening to reverse recent gains," said WHO director-general Margaret Chan.

Aside from the direct consequences, a resurgence of malaria could also harm the fight against Ebola as the two diseases have similar symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose the deadly virus, the WHO said.

Drug resistance

Another issue threatening progress in the global fight against malaria is the rise of insecticide resistance, which has been reported in 49 countries since 2010 - 39 of which reported resistance to two or more insecticide classes.

"Emerging drug and insecticide resistance continues to pose a major threat, and if left unaddressed, could trigger an upsurge in deaths," Chan said.

Malaria killed some 584,000 people around the world in 2013, including some 453,000 children under five. Although funding to fight malaria has increased threefold since 2005, it is still only around half the $5.1 billion (4.1 billion euros) needed to fight the disease.

ksb/lw (Reuters, AFP)