And as World Malaria Day is marked on Sunday, Ban is urging governments to ensure effective and affordable protection and treatment to all people at risk of malaria.

"Two years ago, I called for malaria prevention and treatment programmes to be made universally available to at-risk populations by the end of 2010," he said of the goal.

More than half a billion people are infected with malaria each year.

Despite this, it is preventable and treatable.

In a statement, Ban said "with commitment and resources, we can eradicate malaria and achieve all our global development objectives".

Bed nets

Ban called for more bed nets, more malaria clinics, more training for community health workers, and encouragement of research into the disease.

"This World Malaria Day brings much cause for satisfaction. In a very short time, the world has gone from simply trying to hold malaria at bay to the realistic goal of delivering effective and affordable care to all who need it," he said.

"The global campaign against malaria has shown what is possible when the international community joins forces on multiple fronts to tackle a disease that takes its heaviest toll on poor and underprivileged populations.

Eighty-five per cent of malaria deaths are children under five years of age [AFP]

"But our optimism must also be leavened with caution. Malaria is a tenacious foe. To sustain current gains we must be vigilant."

Since 2000 when African leaders resolved to halve malaria deaths by this year, many plans have been developed.

One was part of World Health Organisation's guidelines released last month, advising that accurate tests should be conducted before dispensing malaria drugs.

WHO said on Friday it had added 16 more malaria diagnostic tests to its approved list to help health workers quickly identify which patients have the disease and need immediate treatment.

Around 40 per cent of the world's population is at risk of malaria, a potentially deadly disease transmitted via mosquito bites.

It kills around 860,000 people a year worldwide, most of them children in Africa.

'Major breakthrough'

"These rapid tests have been a major breakthrough in malaria control," Robert Newman, the director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme, said in a statement.

"They allow us to test people who cannot access diagnosis based on microscopy in remote, rural areas where the majority of malaria occurs."
   
WHO malaria guidelines call for diagnosis using either microscopy or rapid tests before treatment in all suspected malaria cases, but in 2008, only 22 per cent of suspected cases were tested in 18 of 35 African countries that reported data.
 
The Geneva-based WHO said wider diagnosis would allow health workers to identify which patients with fever have malaria and need drugs, and which have other causes of illness and need other treatment. It would also improve overall childhood survival, a key UN development goal.
   
In many parts of the world, malaria parasites have developed resistanceto a number of medicines, necessitating more stringent measures to deal with the disease, especially in rural areas.

Widespread resistance

Inappropriate use of anti-malarial drugs has contributed to widespread resistance by the malaria parasite to commonly used drugs such as chloroquine, leading to rising rates of sickness and death.

Over the past decade, a new group of antimalarials known as artemesinin-based combination therapies or ACTs, has brought new hope in the fight against the disease.

With about 250 days left to meet the 2010 target of universal insecticide-treated net (ITN) coverage for all at-risk populations and the halving of malaria cases and deaths, it is estimated that around 10 million Kenyans lack ITNs.

The US government announced on Thursday that it would focus part of its $63bn, six-year Global Health Initiative plan to accelerate efforts to fight malaria,mostly in Africa and aimed at women and children.

Previous efforts to control malaria have proved less than successful.

In 1998 the Roll Back Malaria initiative aimed to halve malaria deaths by 2010 - but halfway through the programme deaths had actually risen.

Reversing the trend of increase in malaria and other diseases is one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, aimed at reducing poverty and improving the quality of life by 2015.

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