25 April 2008

UN plans to curb malaria deaths

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a new global initiative on Friday to eliminate more than one million deaths every year caused by malaria as quickly as possible.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a new global initiative on Friday to eliminate more than one million deaths every year caused by malaria as quickly as possible.

In his video message for a World Malaria Day event at UN headquarters, Ban said the initiative will offer indoor spraying and bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticide "to all people at risk, especially women and children in Africa" by the end of 2010.

It will also ensure that all public health facilities have access to effective malaria treatment and diagnosis, that community health workers are trained to deal with malaria, and that research into the control, elimination and eradication of malaria is encouraged, Ban said.

"Malaria still kills more than one million people every year," he said. "The toll it is taking is unacceptable - all the more so because malaria is preventable and treatable."

The secretary-general said that several African countries "have made dramatic strides in malaria control, but the most affected nations remain off track to reach the goal of halting and reversing the incidence of the disease."

"That is why today, together with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, I am putting forward a bold but achievable vision," Ban said.

Initiative goes global
The Roll Back Malaria initiative was launched in 1998 by the World Health Organisation and its partners with the goal of reducing malaria deaths by half by 2010. At the midway point, when they assessed their accomplishments, it turned out that there were more malaria cases than when they had started.

Some of their key interventions included distributing bed nets and using more insecticides - but the program never really got wide coverage. Only about two percent of African children sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets.

Ban and the partnership decided that they want to tackle the problem on a larger scale. American philanthropist Ray Chambers, who was appointed in February as the secretary-general's special envoy for malaria, said he is optimistic that goals such as universal coverage of bed nets can be met by the end of 2010, but that it will take a lot of hard work.

"What we're doing at the behest of the secretary-general is a scale-up like nothing ever seen before," he said. "He's able to call for that because we have the best technology - the long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets last approximately five years - and we have significantly more funding available than ever before in history," Chambers said.

He pointed to commitments from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Bank, US President George W. Bush's malaria initiative, and the generosity of donor nations.

Need for more mozzie nets
Ban is calling for bed net coverage for an additional 500 million people - which will require 250 million bed nets. "That's four to five times what we've done in the past," Chambers said.

According to the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, funding is already available for approximately 100 million nets through 2010. That leaves 150 million bed nets that still need funding, at a cost of about US$10 apiece.

Chambers said the Global Fund, World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups trying to fight malaria are assembling a team to provide on the ground oversight and supervision of the campaign and work with health ministries.

"We have to address everywhere, but 90 percent of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, so the initial concentration will be in the most endemic countries," he said.

All 30 countries with the highest malaria deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa and the campaign will probably begin right away focusing on "20 plus ... with the biggest malarial problems," Chambers said.

Malaria vaccine urgently needed
"We have the resources and the know-how," Ban said in his message. "But we have less than 1 000 days before the end of 2010." Chambers stressed, however, that the campaign won't be over.

"If we can bring malaria under control and bring deaths close to zero," he said, "then begins another challenging period to maintain control of malaria with additional bed nets, with very careful vigilance. If we don't we're likely to have a great recurrence." Ultimately, he said, the goal is eradication.

"We're not likely to eradicate malaria without an effective vaccine, and that might be quite a few years away," Chambers said. – (Sapa)

April 2008

Read more:
Malaria vaccine shows promise
Global Fund ups malaria spending


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