WHO reports ‘dramatic’ decrease in malaria deaths

Abdul and Maseray Koroma stand with their daughter, Kelvin, 9 months, beside the new insecticide-treated mosquito net they received from the Imagine No Malaria campaign.

The number of people dying from malaria has fallen dramatically since 2000 and malaria cases also are steadily declining, according to the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Report 2014.

Between 2000 and 2013, the report says, the malaria mortality rate decreased by 47 percent worldwide. In the WHO African Region – where about 90 percent of malaria deaths occur – the decrease is 54 percent.

The Dec. 9 report estimates that, globally, 670 million fewer cases and 4.3 million fewer malaria deaths occurred between 2001 and 2013 than would have occurred had incidence and mortality rates remained unchanged since 2000.

The use of insecticide-treated bed nets is one important reason for the drop, the report said. Between 2000 and 2013, access to bed nets increased substantially.

In 2013, 49 percent of all people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa had access to an insecticide-treated net — a marked increase from just 3 percent in 2004. This trend is set to continue, with a record 214 million bed nets scheduled for delivery to endemic countries in Africa by year-end.

Since April 2010, The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria initiative has distributed more than 2.3 million bed nets, and is less than $10 million shy of its goal to raise $75 million by 2015 to dramatically reduce deaths and suffering in Africa.

“In the countries where we work, national net coverage averages range from about 50 percent to 90 percent,” said Dr. Olusimbo Ige, director of Global Health at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

The church’s work has targeted communities where access to nets is low. “Our grants in the last two years have contributed to increasing net ownership to 98 percent in Bo district in Sierra Leone, 90 percent in Maniema (Democratic Republic of Congo) and 90 percent in Yei, South Sudan,” Ige said.

Acting in partnership

The Rev. Gary Henderson, executive director for Global Health Initiatives for United Methodist Communications, said The United Methodist Church has been a good international partner in this global effort.

“Reduction of death from malaria is only possible on this scale because of the integration of efforts. This report helps us to know that we are on the right path and should inspire United Methodist to stay the course,” he explained.  

The malaria-specific Millennium Development Goal to halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015 already has been met in 64 countries. In 2013, two countries reported zero indigenous cases for the first time, and 11 countries succeeded in maintaining zero cases. Another four countries reported fewer than 10 local cases annually.

Despite these victories, malaria remains a major threat and greater global commitment is necessary for success. In 2013, one-third of households in areas with malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa did not have a single insecticide treated net, the report noted. Approximately $5.1 billion is needed annually to achieve malaria control and, eventually, elimination but current annual funds remain around $2.7 billion.  

“We can win the fight against malaria,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. “We have the right tools and our defenses are working, but we still need to get those tools to a lot more people if we are to make these gains sustainable.”

Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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