Deaths from malaria dropped by 47 percent between 2000-13 worldwide, according to a Tuesday press release from the World Health Organization (WHO). Malaria mortality rates dropped by 54 percent in the WHO’s African region, an area that accounts for roughly 90 percent of the world’s malaria deaths. WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan says the war against malaria can be won, but access to the tools and defenses that allowed recent gains must improve to sustain the fight.
According to the WHO, many of the gains against the disease can be attributed to an increase in access to bed nets treated with insecticides. Almost half of at-risk sub-Saharan Africans had treated bed nets in 2013, compared to only 3 percent in 2004, and another 214 million bed nets are scheduled to be delivered to at-risk African countries by the end of 2014. Another reason for the disease’s declining mortality rate is improved access to accurate diagnostics testing and increasingly effective treatment.
The WHO says it is working towards global eradication of the disease, and is on track to reach that goal. In 2013, two countries reported zero indigenous cases of malaria for the first time, 11 countries reported maintaining zero cases and another four countries had fewer than 10 cases annually. A recent East Asia Summit declaration set an ambitious goal of complete elimination of the disease in the Asia-Pacific region as early as 2030.
The report adds that despite dramatic gains in recent years, there are still significant challenges in the fight for eradication. Access to effective diagnostics and interventions is still lacking in many areas, and young children and pregnant women suffer disproportionately high rates of mortality due to underdeveloped or compromised immune systems. Five countries reported resistance to the most common treatment, 49 countries have reported increasing insecticide resistance and indoor residual insecticide spraying has significantly decreased in recent years, says the WHO.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria globally and 660,000 deaths as a result. Thanks to increasing international involvement and resources over the past decade, 3.3 million lives have been saved, says the CDC. There was three times as much funding to fight malaria in 2014 as there was in 2005, though only about half of the $5.1 billion funding goals set by the WHO have been met.
In Africa—the region most affected by the disease—malaria has been particularly hard to fight. The area’s favorable climate and poor infrastructure to fight disease make transmission difficult to stem and treatment difficult, especially since the region is home to a particularly efficient type of mosquito carrying the most deadly parasite species. The report also outlines the difficulties of combating the disease in parts of West Africa where the recent Ebola outbreak has been particularly unforgiving.
The three countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—have also been some of the most susceptible to malaria, with an estimated 6.6 million cases and 20,000 deaths between the three countries in 2013. With the redirected focus on combating Ebola in West Africa, malaria treatment and intervention have seen noticeable declines and the WHO has issued temporary measures to contain malaria while maintaining a focus on getting the Ebola outbreak under control.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa