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World Malaria Day Highlights Disease's Impact

  • Carol Pearson

The United Nations observes World Malaria Day April 25th in support of international efforts to eliminate the disease. Organizations involved in that battle say the tide is turning in their favor. VOA's Nuch Sarita narrates the story in Khmer.

The United Nations' statistics on malaria are grim: the disease kills about one million people a year. And it claims the life of a child every 30 seconds – 3,000 children under the age of five every day.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit region and the disease seriously impacts the economies of severely afflicted countries. Malaria remains a disease of the poor. But the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Bank and other organizations, report progress is being made in the fight against it.

John Paul Clark is a malaria specialist for the World Bank. He says malaria is both treatable and preventable, "It has been an advocacy struggle to get leaders to really embrace this idea that malaria is an unnecessary evil."

Clark says political leaders finally understand that the death rate, the toll of illness and the economic impact of malaria are problems that can be avoided.

He says there is now the political will to control the disease. And countries, rich and poor, are finally working together to eradicate it.

"We have seen a turnaround and a drop in malaria cases and in child mortality in at least four countries in Africa [Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Zambia] and we're beginning to see some positive movement in indicators in other countries," Clark said.

And that, Clark adds, has had an impact on funding. He says resources have more than tripled, and donors large and small are responding.

They are responding in terms of funding research for vaccines, and at the local level, in providing bed nets treated with insecticide to protect people from mosquitoes that carry the parasite that causes malaria.

At the United Nations headquarters in New York, a group of private and international organizations met Wednesday (April 23rd) to discuss the campaign to bring malaria under control. Ann Veneman is the head of the United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF.

She projects global production of bed nets will reach 110 million this year, up from 30 million just four years ago.

Bed nets have proven to reduce malaria transmissions by 20 percent.

A number of organizations are working to help buy those nets so they can be distributed where they are most needed.

Tim Wirth is president of the United Nations Foundation:

"The program, overall, is called 'Nothing but Nets' - buy a net, save a life. As Ann pointed out, this is the most effective program in the area of malaria that we know about," Wirth said.

Religious groups and even the National Basketball Association in the United States are involved in raising money to buy bed nets. Other efforts include raising funds for anti-malarial treatments. World organizations are looking at decreasing the death rate from malaria by 50 percent by 2010, and to one day eliminate it as a major health problem.