The what, why and how of health and development

Malaria control “great public health success story” but drug resistance concerns persist

The number of people dying from malaria has dropped 60 percent since 2000, according to a UN report declaring the goal of halting the spread of the disease has been “convincingly” met.

The report released today from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF says that 6.2 million lives have been saved in that time and new malaria cases have also dropped by 37 percent.

Wikipedia/Alvesgaspar

Wikipedia/Alvesgaspar

According the report, the latest data shows that the malaria Millennium Development Goal, which aimed to halt and begin the reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015, has been met.

The vast majority of people saved were young children, the UN organisations said.

Director General of WHO Dr. Margaret Chan described global malaria control as “one of the great public health success stories of the past 15 years”.

She added: “It is a sign that our strategies are on target, and that we can beat this ancient killer, which still claims hundreds of thousands of lives, mostly children, each year.”

The report claimed it was a surge in funding since 2000 that helped to tackle the onslaught of the disease, with approximately one billion insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) being distributed in Africa, thought to account for an estimated 68 percent of malaria cases prevented since 2000.

The increasing use of rapid diagnostic tests, and effective treatment using Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are also factors contributing to the drop in the number of people dying from malaria.

The number of deaths due to malaria are still extremely high, however, with an estimated 438,000 dying in 2015 alone from the preventable and treatable disease, the majority in Sub-Saharan African countries.

The report also emphasised that 1 in 4 children in sub-Saharan Africa still lives in a household with no ITN and no protection provided by indoor residual spraying.

Recent research has also pointed to the growing resistance of some malaria parasites to treatment.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, writing in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, confirmed in April this year early indicators of the malaria parasite in Africa developing resistance to the most effective drug available.

Mutating the malaria parasite in a laboratory to mimic mutations seen in Kenya, they found the parasite required 32 percent more of the anti-malaria drug artemisinin to be killed.

Separate research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2014 also found that resistance to artemisinin is now present in Eastern Myanmar, Thailand and Southern Vietnam, as well as Western Cambodia.

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