LONDON/GENEVA: Malaria deaths have dropped dramatically since 2000 and cases are falling steadily as more people are properly diagnosed and treated and more get mosquito nets, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
The UN agency also warned of continuing gaps in access to mosquito nets and anti-malaria treatments, as well as worrying signs of resistance to insecticides and drugs.
Global mortality rates fell by 47 percent between 2000 and 2013 and by 53 percent in children under the age of five, the WHO said in its annual report on the disease.
Yet progress against the mosquito-borne infection remains fragile and West African countries suffering an unprecedented epidemic of Ebola are particularly at risk of seeing a resurgence of malaria, the UN health agency said.
In its annual report on the disease, the WHO said the malaria death rate fell by 47 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2013 and by 54 percent in Africa, where about 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur.
In an analysis of malaria’s impact across sub-Saharan Africa, it also found that despite a 43 percent increase in population, fewer people in the region are infected every year.
Some 44 percent of people at risk from malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa used mosquito nets in 2013, compared to just 2 percent in 2004. And an expected 214 million nets will be delivered there by the end of 2014.
“The massive scale-up of mosquito control measures, diagnostic testing and quality-assured treatment has helped to dramatically reduce the global disease burden,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria program.
“With sustained political commitment, increased financing, and with the help of innovative new tools, we should be able to accelerate efforts even further.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur, the mortality rate was down 54 percent — 58 percent in under fives, the equivalent of about 3.9 million children’s deaths averted.
“These are truly unprecedented results and phenomenal news in terms of global health,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria program.
Despite a 43-percent increase in the population in the region, the number of infections at any one time fell 26 percent between 2000 and 2013.
Meanwhile 13 of the 97 malarial countries reported no cases of the disease last year, including Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka, which recorded their first ever zero result.
Alonso attributed the progress in large part to increasing financial and political commitment, as well as improvements in diagnosing and therefore treating cases.
However, despite a threefold increase in investment since 2005, malaria programs are still underfunded — $2.7 billion (2.2 billion euros) in 2013 against a $5.1 billion international target. And as a result, major gaps remain.
Access to insecticide-treated bed nets has improved significantly, but 278 million people at risk in sub-Saharan Africa still live in households without one.