Malaria Deaths Decline Worldwide, But Progress Is ‘Fragile,’ WHO Warns

By Pete Winn | December 13, 2011 | 3:42 PM EST

This Aug. 29, 2009 photo shows Cambodian Hoeun Hong Da, 13, still recovering from an attack of malaria, smiling as he arrives home with a new mosquito resistant bed net as he arrives at O'treng village on the outskirts of Pailin, Cambodia. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

(CNSNews.com) – Death rates from malaria have declined by more than 25 percent worldwide since 2000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – the United Nations’ medical organization.

In Africa, where the lion’s share of malaria cases occurred, malaria deaths are down by 33 percent, according to the World Malaria Report 2011, issued Tuesday in Geneva by WHO.

In 2010, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 106 countries and territories in the world. Of those, an estimated 81 percent (and 91 percent of the deaths) occurred in Africa.

There were an estimated 655 000 malaria deaths in 2010, which is 36 000 lower than the year before.

The report said that during the last decade, the incidence of malaria and mortality rates have declined in all regions of the world. .

"We are making significant progress in battling a major public health problem. Coverage of at-risk populations with malaria prevention and control measures increased again in 2010, and resulted in a further decline in estimated malaria cases and deaths," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "But there are worrisome signs that suggest progress might slow."

Globally, 86 percent of the victims were children under 5 years of age, the WHO said.

"With malaria deaths in Africa having fallen significantly since 2000, the return on our investment to end malaria deaths has been greater than any I have experienced in the business world. But one child still dies every minute from malaria - and that is one child and one minute too many,” Raymond G. Chambers, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Malaria, said.

Long-lasting insecticidal nets have been one of the least expensive and most effective weapons in the fight against malaria. According to the new report, the number of bed nets delivered to malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 88.5 million in 2009 to 145 million in 2010.

An estimated 50 percent of households in sub-Saharan Africa now have at least one bed net, and 96 percent of persons with access to a net use it.

There has also been further progress in rolling out diagnostic testing, which is crucially important to separate malaria from other febrile illnesses. The number of rapid diagnostic tests delivered by manufacturers climbed from 45 million in 2008 to 88 million in 2010, and the testing rate in the public sector in the WHO African Region rose from 20 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2010.

Worldwide, the volume of antimalarial medication delivered to the public sector has also increased. In 2010, 181 million courses of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) were procured, up from 158 million in 2009, and just 11 million in 2005. ACTs are recommended as the first-line treatment for malaria caused by the most deadly malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.

In its report, WHO warned that a projected shortfall in funding threatens the fragile gains and that the double challenge of emerging drug and insecticide resistance needs to be proactively addressed.

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