Africa: U.S., International Partners Gaining Ground Against Malaria

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Washington — International collaborative efforts to combat malaria are saving lives and relieving suffering among young children, the age group most vulnerable to the disease. An estimated 3.3 million lives have been spared from malaria since 2000, with a 45 percent decrease in the mortality rate, according to a comprehensive report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) December 11.

The occurrence of this mosquito-borne disease has fallen by 29 percent globally and 31 percent in Africa. Mortality rates among African children are down an estimated 54 percent, according to the WHO summary of information provided from 102 countries where the disease occurs.

The results show "remarkable progress," according to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who adds that further progress can be made to hasten the decline of the disease.

"Our collective efforts are not only ending the needless suffering of millions," said U.N. Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers, "but are helping families thrive and adding billions of dollars to economies that nations can use in other ways."

Economic studies have proven that malaria depresses national economic growth because of the way the illness saps worker productivity and impairs cognitive development in children.

"It's a triumph of partnership -- all of us working together, the U.S. government and our partners, partner countries, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, faith groups, and the communities we are trying to serve," said U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator Tim Ziemer in testimony to the U.S. Congress about the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI), which he leads.

This 8-year-old U.S. program applies the strengths and expertise of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help the nations at greatest risk for malaria. When the Bush administration made a $1.2 billion multiyear commitment to the effort, Ziemer said, PMI became a "game-changer" in the global campaign against the disease.

With an initial focus on Tanzania, Uganda and Angola, PMI began with what Ziemer described as "ambitious goals" to make significant reductions in malaria's death toll. Nineteen countries in Africa and East Asia now receive assistance through PMI, and the WHO report indicates that the effort is paying off.

"Since 2006, 12 of the original 15 PMI focus countries have had reductions in childhood mortality rates, ranging from 16 to 50 percent," wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in a December 11 blog post about the WHO data.

PMI helps nations distribute malaria-prevention measures -- insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying, for example -- which protected more than 50 million people in 2012. Another key PMI activity is increasing availability of treatments to cure illness when it does occur. The program distributed 43 million treatments of lifesaving drugs in 2012. PMI documents indicate almost 190 million treatments have been distributed worldwide since the program began.

Ziemer said PMI and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria coordinate their efforts to better attack the disease. The agencies are the world's two leading funding sources for anti-malarial efforts worldwide.

PMI is only one program through which the U.S. government is helping affected nations. USAID supports control efforts in three other African countries and through the Amazon Malaria Initiative in Latin America.

In reaction to the WHO findings about the progress against the disease, Kerry expressed hope that the world can defeat malaria. "We're knocking on the door of doing what many 15 years ago deemed impossible," Kerry said in the blog post.

The head of WHO'S malaria program said that in the years ahead the global effort will require new tools and technologies to achieve further progress.

The most ominous threat to progress, however, is the appearance of some strains of the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite that are resistant to the drugs most widely used and readily available today, known as artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). Malaria strains resistant to these medications have been identified in Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

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