Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WHO reports a reduction in malaria infections for Africa

The World Health Organization says that malaria cases have seen big decreases in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries have 50 percent reduction in cases of the mosquito borne disease from a few years ago. The WHO attributes that to the increase in use of mosquito nets and drugs.

From the Guardian, writer Sarah Boseley gives us more of the WHO statement and why the improvements are at risk.

Malaria cases or hospital admissions and deaths have been cut by half in 11 African countries over the past decade, the WHO's world malaria report shows. Outside Africa, in 32 of the 56 remaining malaria endemic countries, the gains have been even greater. Eight more countries have seen reductions in the number of cases of between 25% and 50%. Last year Morocco and Turkmenistan were certified malaria free.

"The results set out in this report are the best seen in decades," said WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan. "After so many years of deterioration and stagnation in the malaria situation, countries and their development partners are now on the offensive. Current strategies work."

A huge push to get insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) to families in malaria ridden countries over the past three years, involving UN agencies, governments, charities and celebrities, will have supplied approximately 289m nets to sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2010, which is enough to protect 578 million people – 76% of the 765 million at risk.

But what the WHO calls the fragility of the gains is clear. By the middle of this year still only 35% of children in Africa – who are the most vulnerable to malaria – were sleeping under a net. "The percentage of ITNs is still below the WHA [World Health Assembly, the supreme decision-making body for WHO] target of 80%, partly because up to the end of 2009 ITN ownership remained low in some of the largest African countries," says the report.

And the lifespan of the nets, at only three years, represents a "formidable challenge", the report goes on. "Nets delivered in 2006 and 2007 are therefore already due for replacement, and those delivered between 2008 and 2010 soon will be. Failure to replace these nets could lead to a resurgence of malaria cases and deaths."

There are other worries. A single class of insecticide is used at the moment in the nets and mostly for indoor spraying. There is a possibility that the mosquito-borne parasites that spread malaria could become resistant to it.

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