WHO/UNICEF report: Malaria MDG target achieved amid sharp drop in cases and mortality, but three billion people remain at risk

LONDON, Sept. 17, 2015 /CNW/ - Malaria death rates have plunged by 60 per cent since 2000, translating into 6.2 million lives saved, the vast majority of them children, according to a joint WHO-UNICEF report released today.

The report – Achieving the Malaria Millennium Development Goal Target – shows that the malaria MDG target to "have halted and begun to reverse incidence" of malaria by 2015, has been met "convincingly", with malaria cases dropping by 37 per cent in 15 years.

"Global malaria control is one of the great public health success stories of the past 15 years," said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. "It's a sign that our strategies are on target, and that we can beat this ancient killer, which still claims hundreds of thousands of lives, mostly children, each year."

An increasing number of countries are on the verge of eliminating malaria. In 2014, 13 countries reported zero cases of the disease and six countries reported fewer than 10 cases. The fastest decreases were seen in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which reported zero cases in 2014, and in Eastern Asia.

Journey not over
Despite tremendous progress, malaria remains an acute public health problem in many regions. In 2015 alone, there were an estimated 214 million new cases of malaria, and approximately 438,000 people died of this preventable and treatable disease. About 3.2 billion people – almost half of the world's population – are at risk of malaria.

Some countries continue to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. Fifteen countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, accounted for 80 per cent of malaria cases and 78 per cent of deaths globally in 2015.

Children under five account for more than two-thirds of all deaths associated with malaria. Between 2000 and 2015, the under-five malaria death rate fell by 65 per cent or an estimated 5.9 million child lives saved.

"Malaria kills mostly young children, especially those living in the poorest and most remote places. So the best way to celebrate global progress in the fight against it is to recommit ourselves to reaching and treating them," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "We know how to prevent and treat malaria. Since we can do it, we must." 

A surge in funding– but not enough
Global bi-lateral and multi-lateral funding for malaria has increased 20-fold since 2000. Domestic investments within malaria-affected countries have also increased year by year.

A number of donor governments have made the fight against malaria a high global health priority. In the United States of America, the President's Malaria Initiative has mobilized hundreds of millions of dollars for treatment and prevention, while the government of the United Kingdom tripled its funding for malaria control between 2008 and 2015.

Many governments have also channeled their investments through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria or directly to countries.

"A healthy, prosperous world is in all our interests and the prevention of deadly diseases is one of the smartest investments we can make," said the Rt. Hon. Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom. "That is why Britain will work to help end this terrible disease by boosting health systems across Africa, tackling resistance to life saving medicines and insecticides, and working with partners like the Global Fund to provide bednets to millions."

The surge in funding has led to an unprecedented expansion in the delivery of core interventions across sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2000, approximately one billion insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) have been distributed in Africa. The increased use of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) has made it easier to distinguish between malarial and non-malarial fevers, enabling timely and appropriate treatment. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are highly effective against Plasmodium falciparum, the most prevalent and lethal malaria parasite affecting humans, but drug resistance is a looming threat which must be prevented.

New research demonstrates the impact of core interventions
New research from the Malaria Atlas Project – a WHO Collaborating Centre based at the University of Oxford – shows that ITNs have been by "far the most important intervention" across Africa, accounting for an estimated 68 per cent of malaria cases prevented since 2000. ACTs and indoor residual spraying contributed to 19 per cent and 13 per cent of cases prevented, respectively. The research, published yesterday in the journal Nature, provides strong support for increasing access to these core interventions in post-2015 malaria control strategies.

The way forward
In May 2015, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria—a new 15-year road map for malaria control. The strategy aims at a further 90 per cent reduction in global malaria incidence and mortality by 2030.

The WHO-UNICEF report notes that these targets can only be achieved with political will, country leadership and significantly increased investment. Annual funding for malaria will need to triple—from $2.7 billion today to $8.7 billion in 2030.

Other key findings from the report:

  • In 2015, 89 per cent of all malaria cases and 91 per cent of deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Of the 106 countries and territories with malaria transmission in 2000, 102 are projected to reverse the incidence of malaria by the end of 2015.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of children under five sleeping under an ITN in sub-Saharan Africa increased from less than two per cent to an estimated 68 per cent.
  • One in four children in sub-Saharan Africa still lives in a household with no ITN and no protection provided by indoor residual spraying.
  • In 2015, only an estimated 13 per cent of children with a fever in sub-Saharan Africa received an ACT

Note to editors:

  • Multimedia materials including b-roll for broadcasters are available here
  • The report "Achieving the Malaria MDG Target" will be launched on 17 September at 13h00 in the House of Commons in London, United Kingdom. Speakers include: WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan; the Rt. Hon Justine Greening, the UK Secretary of State for International Development; Dr Richard Kamwi, the former Minister of Health of Namibia and Ambassador of the "Elimination 8" initiative in southern Africa.

About WHO
The World Health Organization is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries, and monitoring and assessing health trends and improving global health security. For more information about WHO and its work, visit www.who.int

About UNICEF
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

SOURCE UNICEF Canada

Image with caption: "In Sierra Leone's Port Loko District, a young man helps a woman, with a baby in a sling on her back, as she hangs a long-lasting insecticidal net in the shade, where it will remain for 24 hours. New nets treated with insecticide must air for 24 hours prior to coming in contact with human skin. (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20150917_C3699_PHOTO_EN_499417.jpg

For further information: To arrange interviews or for more information please contact: Tiffany Baggetta, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8892, 647-308-4806 (mobile), tbaggetta@unicef.ca

RELATED LINKS
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