Battle against malaria slowing down, WHO warns

The fight against malaria has slowed in the past two years, threatening to reverse progress in combatting one of the world’s biggest killers, the World Health Organisation warned Monday.

Funding for efforts to prevent the deadly mosquito-borne disease increased sharply between 2004 and 2009, part of an ongoing drive that has saved more than a million lives in the past decade, but has since levelled off, the UN’s health body said.

“Millions of people living in highly endemic areas continue to lack access to effective malaria prevention, diagnostic testing and treatment,” it said in a statement.

In its annual World Malaria Report, the WHO pointed out that last year, only $2.3 billion (1.75 billion euros) went towards fighting malaria globally — less than half the estimated $5.1 billion needed.

“The funding for malaria is not enough,” Richard Cibulski of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme told reporters in Geneva, cautioning there could be a resurgence of the disease in coming years.

The slowdown was regrettable in light of progress made in the preceding decade, WHO said, pointing out that between 2000 and 2010, the global malaria mortality rate plunged 26 percent, while it fell a full 33 percent in Africa, saving an estimated 1.1 million lives.

In 2010, an estimated 219 million people were infected with the disease and some 660,000 died, the UN agency said, revising up slightly its previous estimate for that year.

It did not provide any figures for 2011 or 2012.

Reduced funding for fighting the preventable disease, which affects many of the world’s poorest nations and mainly kills children under the age of five, was especially regrettable since a little money spent on prevention can save a lot in subsequent healthcare costs, said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, the head of the Roll back Malaria Partnership.

“For $1 spent, you get in return $35,” she told reporters.

For instance, WHO said that the number of special mosquito nets handed out in the worst-hit sub-Saharan African countries had fallen from 145 million in 2010 to around 66 million this year.

While malaria is widespread in tropical and sub-tropical climates and affects 99 countries, 14 countries account for around 80 percent of the deaths, the WHO said.

Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo alone account for 40 percent of global malaria deaths.

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