The United Nations official leading efforts to tackle malaria is visiting Nigeria and Kenya this week, the two nations which together account for one third of the estimated 1 million deaths worldwide from the deadly disease.
Ray Chambers kicked off his visit today in Nigeria, which has achieved "transformative" progress over the one year that has elapsed since he last visited the country, according to a news release issued by the office of the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Malaria.
Close to half of the population now has access to a mosquito net. In addition, a month-by-month distribution strategy has been established to ensure that nets are delivered across Nigeria's 36 states until universal coverage is achieved by the end of 2010.
Ensuring universal access to malaria-control tools - insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and effective medication - by 2010 is critical for both countries to reach the Secretary-General's goal of near-zero global malaria deaths by 2015.
"In just one year, Nigeria has positioned itself to meet the Secretary-General's goal of universal coverage by 2010. With one quarter of the world's malaria deaths occurring here, Nigeria bears the most onerous malaria burden. But the proficiency with which the Government is closing in on malaria is a bold statement that across sub-Saharan Africa, the Secretary-General's goal is achievable," said Mr. Chambers.
"All nations who feel that the challenge may be too daunting can look to Nigeria and understand that rapid progress is possible," he added.
Nigeria is working to achieve funding for all 70 million nets needed for universal coverage. Some 60 million nets have already been funded thanks to resources from, among others, the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Bank.
The country is also working to mobilize communities to assist in the deliver of the nets and to encourage the use of such life-saving tools.
Tomorrow Mr. Chambers will join the Nigerian Inter-Faith Action Association as it launches its Faith United for Health campaign in the capital, Abuja, which seeks to empower around 300,000 religious leaders to boost the use of nets in their communities.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, malaria has been on the decline but a "final push" toward universal coverage of prevention and treatment is needed to protect the gains made, according to the Special Envoy's office, which added that the country is facing a "critical" shortage of funding for 11 million nets that must be addressed.
"With Kenyan leadership, and the commitment of the Global Fund, the World Bank, UNICEF [UN Children's Fund] and others, a potential health crisis can be averted, by ensuring that over 20 million Kenyans are not left unprotected from malaria," Mr. Chambers stated.