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18 September 2015

World Health Organisation makes progress in fight against malaria

Huge gains have been made by the United Nations’ Global Malaria Programme, reaching a crucial Millennium Development Goal.

By Emad Ahmed

The World Health Organisation (WHO), the health body of the United Nations (UN), has released a new report stating the huge leaps made in the global fight against malaria. In the space of only 15 years, between 2000 and 2015, the rate of new malaria infections has dropped by approximately 37 per cent, with the global death rate falling by a dramatic 60 per cent during the same period. This means over six million deaths have been prevented since 2000.

“In the last decade of the previous century, malaria was rampant, killing more than one million people every year,” declared Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, at a joint press conference from the Houses of Parliament with the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening. “Today, global malaria control ranks as one of the most successful stories in public health, since the start of the century.”

One of the main reasons behind such stunning progress is due to the widespread use of insecticide-treated bed nets, a simple but very effective method of preventing the disease.

“Bed nets have not required a massive change in attitudes,” remarks Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. “One of the big success stories is that they are easily and readily used by people,” he adds.

The report shows the big increase in the use of insecticide-treated bed nets across Africa, including usage by more than 60 per cent of the poorest proportion of children in Tanzania. This is significant due to the fact malaria is potentially more harmful to babies and children than adults.

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The announcement coincides with the release of a study in the journal Nature, which closely measured the control of Plasmodium falciparum, the most harmful pathogen which causes malaria through mosquitos. The authors recorded a halving of infections caused by this specific pathogen between 2000 and 2015, with bed nets being the most significant factor in preventing new infections of malaria.

This is a major display of the effectiveness of the UK’s international aid budget. “The British people, through the parliament and the government, for the leadership they have shown whether Labour or Conservative control, have shown huge recognition,” Alonso concludes.

However, he adds that this is a mere “tipping point”, with a lot of work still to do, and no time for complacency. Greening, in a statement from Dfid, adds: “Malaria still causes one in ten child deaths in Africa and costs the continent’s economies around £8bn every year.”

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