Child Malaria Deaths Dropping, But Fight Against Disease Goes On

Young people took a stand against malaria during the closing ceremony of the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in February.
Young people took a stand against malaria during the closing ceremony of the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in February.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
April 25, 2013

Early childhood deaths due to malaria are in rapid decline, eight years after a U.S. campaign against the disease began in 15 high-risk countries. Figures from the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) show that early childhood deaths are down by 16 percent in Malawi to as much as 50 percent in Rwanda.

“Since PMI’s launch in 2005, impressive gains in malaria control have been documented in PMI focus countries,” according to the findings released by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in recognition of World Malaria Day April 25.

“Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria” is the 2013 rallying cry for the community of malaria fighters worldwide, which includes USAID, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the U.K. Department for International Development, UNICEF and many nongovernmental organizations.

“It is unacceptable that every day more than 1,500 children still die from a preventable and curable disease,” said Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF’s director of programs. “We must distribute insecticide-treated nets to all who need them, provide timely testing for children and appropriate medicine when they are infected.”

Bed nets protect sleeping people from biting mosquitoes, which transmit the disease-causing parasite to humans. Fewer than 5.6 million people in sub-Saharan Africa slept under bed nets in 2005, but now more than 140 million sleep with nets, UNICEF reports, due to the efforts of many contributing nations and organizations.

The President’s Malaria Initiative has distributed more than 62 million bed nets since 2006, and helped other donors distribute almost 13.5 million bed protectors.

WHO estimates that malaria caused 219 million cases of disease in 2010, leading to 660,000 deaths. But in the almost 10-year accelerated campaign against malaria, it is estimated that 1.1 million lives have been saved from premature death.

The tropical regions where the parasite-carrying mosquito is a health threat are home to 3.3 billion people. The new USAID report says that burden of illness accounts for 30 to 40 percent of outpatient visits and hospital admissions. Easing that case load “enables overstretched health workers to concentrate on managing other childhood illnesses,” the report says.

USAID documents that the U.S. malaria program has contributed to a sharp decline in childhood deaths in a number of sub-Saharan countries:

• 50 percent reduction in Rwanda.

• 50 percent in Senegal.

• 37 percent in Mozambique.

• 36 percent in Kenya.

WHO reports that an estimated 91 percent of malaria deaths in 2010 were in Africa, followed by Southeast Asia with 6 percent. Worldwide, 86 percent of malaria deaths were in children.

The risk of malaria is declining and more children are surviving, but a long-term malaria threat still lurks in the future. A strain of the malaria parasite has appeared in some areas with resistance to what have been the most effective medicines to fight them. Cases caused by the resistant strain require more expensive, less accessible medicines to cure a patient.

And some fear that the parasite may ultimately become resistant to everything that doctors currently have in the medicine cabinet.