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Global fight against malaria stalls, as financing gets tight

posted 18 Dec 2012, 06:50 by Mpelembe   [ updated 18 Dec 2012, 06:51 ]

A significant slowdown in global funding of anti-malaria campaigns threatens to roll back impressive gains made against the preventable mosquito borne disease over the last decade, says World Health Organisation (WHO).

GUIDAN ROUMDJI, MARADINIGER  (REUTERS) -   Global funding for the fight against malaria has stalled in the past two years, threatening to reverse what the World Health Organisation (WHO) says are "remarkable recent gains" in the battle to control one of the world's leading infectious killers, according to report by WHO, released on Monday ( December 17).

After rapid expansion between 2004 and 2009, funding for malaria prevention and control levelled off between 2010 and 2012 - meaning there were fewer life-saving steps taken in hard- hit malarial regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

"This is a crisis because so many children who have been sleeping under nets could wind up not sleeping under nets in the next several years. Now, these are the most vulnerable children, because while they were sleeping under nets in various countries, they did not have the chance to build immunity to the disease. So if they now have to sleep without nets, they are the most opportunistic objects of the Anopheles mosquito, "said Ray Chambers, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for malaria.

Malaria is caused by a parasite carried in the saliva of mosquitoes and kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, mainly babies and children under the age of five in Africa.

According to WHO, the disease infected around 219 million people in 2010, killing around 660,000 of them. Robust figures are, however, hard to establish and other health experts say the annual malaria death toll could be double that.

An estimated $5.1 billion a year is needed between 2011 and 2020 to get malaria medicines, prevention measures and tests to all those who need them in the 99 countries which have on-going transmission of the disease.

"We are very concerned about the number of insecticide treated bed nets. These are really our mainstay for preventing malaria. And in 2010 we had 145 million bed nets delivered to sub-Saharan Africa, a phenomenal achievement. This year, 2012 we project that only 66 million bednets will actually be delivered to sub-Saharan Africa," said Robert Newman, Director, WHO global malaria program.

The report also states that while many countries have increased financing for malaria, the total available global funding remained at $2.3 billion in 2011 - less than half of what is needed.

The WHO report found that by far the greatest impact of malaria is concentrated in 14 endemic countries which account for an estimated 80 percent of malaria deaths.

Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the most affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, while India is the hardest hit in South East Asia.

WHO says it is important to find alternative sources of funding to boost and sustain malaria control.

According to the report, the situation is worrisome as many households will be unable to replace existing bed nets when required, exposing more people to the potentially deadly disease.

About one million lives were saved in the last decade from ant-malaria campaigns.

"The progress you have made can be reversed dramatically, and quickly, and so resurgence occur when your prevention methods start to fade in terms of coverage. And so if we can not aggressively scale up bed net coverage and reach the target we set for ourselves, we do worry that the coming years will see a dramatic resurgence of malaria, that could undo the progress that we have made over the past decade," said Robert Newman, director, World Health Organisation (WHO) global malaria program.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership, which includes the WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank, said it was already exploring several options of raising funds, including financial transaction taxes, airline ticket taxes and a potential "malaria bond" to encourage more involvement from private sector investors.