SEATTLE (Reuters) - Nearly a third of all malaria affected countries are on course to eliminate the mosquito-borne disease over the next 10 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday.
In a progress report published by the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) partnership at the start of an international Malaria Forum conference in Seattle, the United Nations health body said “remarkable progress” had been made.
Up to a third of the 108 countries and territories across the world where malaria is endemic are moving towards being able to wipe out the disease within their borders, it said.
“Better diagnostic testing and surveillance has provided a clearer picture of where we are on the ground — and has shown that there are countries eliminating malaria in all endemic regions of the world,” Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, told the conference.
He said the WHO continually monitors progress to ensure countries are supported in their efforts to be malaria-free.
Almost half the world’s population — or 3.3 billion people — are at risk of malaria and the mosquito-borne parasitic disease killed 781,000 people in 2009, latest data show.
Most of its victims are in Africa, where the disease kills a child every 45 seconds.
Malaria elimination — halting the disease’s transmission and reducing infections to zero within a defined area — was first attempted on a large scale during the Global Malaria Eradication Program from 1955 to 1972.
During that time, 20 countries were certified by WHO as malaria-free. But that number dropped to just four countries during the following 30 years when efforts to control the spread of the disease lapsed and it swiftly returned.
Monday’s report said seven countries had recently eliminated malaria and were working to prevent re-introduction, another 10 countries were monitoring transmission to get down to zero malaria cases, and a further nine were “preparing to move towards nationwide elimination of malaria”.
“The extraordinary commitment, the ... financing, and the coordination of efforts to realise malaria targets over the last ten years have resulted in a situation today where we could see 10 more countries reaching a malaria-free status in a relatively short time,” said Awa Marie Coll-Seck, RBM’s executive director.
“This will save many many more lives.”
RBM said in a report in September that a rapid scale up of a range of malaria control measures — such as insecticide treated mosquito nets, indoor spraying, faster and more accurate diagnosis and access to anti-malaria drugs — has saved an estimated 1.1 million lives in Africa in the past 10 years.
International funding for the fight against malaria has also risen substantially in recent years, reaching about $1.5 billion in 2010, up from $100,000 million in 2003.
Newman said that with all the highly effective tools currently available, “no one should die of malaria” and urged international donors and national governments to push harder to ensure all those who needed them had access to them.
Only then, he said, would the “global goal of eradicating this ancient scourge” become a reality.
The Malaria Forum is organised and funded by the Gates Foundation, a $34 billion fund founded by the billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The foundation is devoted largely to health projects in poor countries.
In 2007, Gates and his wife Melinda called on the international community to fight for global eradication of malaria, saying that to aspire to anything less would be “timid”.