As we mark World Malaria Day, half of the world’s population remain at risk of contracting this killer disease.
While there has been a considerable decline in malaria mortality over the past decade, a study published in The Lancet last year found that malaria mortality burden is much larger than previously estimated.
According to the World Malaria Report 2012, an estimated 219 million cases of malaria occur each year, and about 660,000 people die from the disease.
Children under five years of age and pregnant women are the most vulnerable groups.
Latest statistics show that 80% of malaria deaths occur in just 14 countries , and most of these are in the west and central Africa regions.
Out of 104 malaria endemic countries, six account for almost half of all malaria cases: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire.
Disparities exist within countries as well, with poor and rural populations at the highest risk from malaria.
Nigeria and DRC have the highest numbers of annual malaria deaths, accounting for about one-third of the global annual burden.
The risk in Nigeria
In Nigeria, 97% of people live in malaria endemic areas.
More than 172,000 children under five die from malaria each year.
Despite considerable economic growth and comprehensive national policies, less than 30% of children under five year sleep under bednets and only about 12% receive initial malaria treatments.
The risk in DRC
DRC faces significant development challenges, and a dysfunctional health system and on-going conflict have compounded these.
Each year nearly 84,000 children under five die from malaria.
Only around one-third of children have access to bednets while a mere 4% of children under five receive initial malaria treatments.
Preventable and curable
Low-cost and proven interventions exist that could prevent and control malaria effectively.
These include artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), insecticide-treated bednets and vector control measures such as indoor residual spraying (IRS).
A course of ACT costs only £0.20 per child, a rapid diagnostic test costs about £0.30, while a bednet costs only about £0.90 per year of protection.
Significant evidence exists that these interventions can be effectively delivered by community health workers.
Through the consolidated efforts of the global Roll Back Malaria (RBM) partnership and national malaria control programmes, significant progress has been made in improving access to bednets.
In 2012, more than half of all households in malaria-endemic areas of sub-Saharan Africa had at least one bednet.
Considerable challenges remain in achieving universal coverage of life-saving interventions.
– Access to bednets has been increasing but still many people do not sleep under one.
– National policies in many African countries still prevent community case management of common childhood illnesses such as malaria.
– Implementation of national strategies on malaria prevention and control has been slow.
– Limited first-line treatments are available and drug resistance is emerging.
– A malaria vaccine is under development, but will probably not be ready for at least another five years.
– The estimated funding required for malaria control globally is just over £3bn per year, but the available funding amounts to less than half this, according to the global RBM partnership.
Need to invest in the future
This year’s World Malaria Day theme is ‘Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria’.
Malaria prevention and control will not only improve maternal and child survival but will contribute to achieving six millennium development goals (MDGs 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8).
There is need for accelerating efforts to strengthen health systems and achieve universal access to prevention and case management interventions if malaria eradication and broader health and development goals are to be met.