Malaria deaths have dropped dramatically since 2000 as more people are treated and use more bed nets, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
However, the UN health agency warned on Tuesday that the Malaria treatment process in West Africa risks being reversed by an unprecedented epidemic of Ebola.
On malaria, the WHO said that progress against the mosquito-borne infection remains fragile and West African countries suffering from Ebola are particularly at risk of seeing a resurgence of malaria.
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In its annual report on the malaria, the WHO said the death rate from the illness fell by 47 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2013 and by 54 percent in Africa, where about 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur.
In an analysis of malaria’s impact across sub-Saharan Africa, it also found that despite a 43 percent increase in population, fewer people in the region are infected every year.
Meanwhile, 13 of the 97 malarial countries reported no cases of the disease last year, including two, Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka, which recorded their first ever zero result.
While access to insecticide-treated bed nets has improved, 278 million of the 840 million people at risk in sub-Saharan Africa still live in households without one, the report said.
“The next few years are going to be critical to show that we can maintain momentum and build on the gains,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria programme.
He attributed the progress in large part to increasing financial and political commitment, in particular regional efforts to work together to eliminate malaria.
Ebola’s ‘devastating impact’
On Ebola, the report said that the deadly outbreak has had a “devastating impact” on malaria treatment and the roll-out of malaria control programmes.
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In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, all severely hit by the Ebola epidemic, many inpatient clinics are closed and attendance at outpatient facilities is a fraction of rates seen before the outbreak, it said.
With a major malaria threat in these countries, which together saw some 6.6 million cases and 20,000 malaria deaths in 2013, the WHO called for temporary control measures, including giving malaria drugs to all patients with fever and carrying out mass treatment in areas hard hit by both Ebola and malaria.
“International donor financing is being stepped up to meet the further recommendation that bed nets be distributed to all [Ebola] affected areas,” the report said.
Worldwide, malaria killed some 584,000 people in 2013, including some 453,000 children under five years old. Although funding to fight malaria has increased threefold since 2005, it is still only around half the $5.1bn needed.