According to a new study by the World Health Organization, the widespread distribution of mosquito nets and a new medicine, artemisinin, has sharply reduced malaria deaths in several African countries, the New York Times reports.
The report, conducted for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, offers hopeful signs of progress in the long battle against a disease that is estimated to kill a million children a year in poor tropical countries. Finding hard data about malaria has long been a problem, particularly in rural Africa, where almost anyone with fever is presumed to have the disease and medical records are rarely forwarded to the national agencies. For this study, researchers counted only hospitalized children whose diagnoses were confirmed.
WHO Researchers examined programs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Zambia that struggled to distribute medicines containing artemisinin to every public health clinic and mosquito nets to the families of every child under the age of five. While there had been previous reports of success with nets and artemisinin, most were based on relatively small samples; this report is the first to compare national programs.
According to the study, Rwanda had 66 percent fewer child malaria deaths in 2007 than in 2005, and in Ethiopia, where twenty million nets were distributed in almost two years, the number of child malaria deaths decreased 50 percent. Zambia posted only a 33 percent drop in overall deaths, which WHO attributed to a shortage of both nets and medicine; areas in Zambia without such problems showed reductions of 50 percent to 60 percent. Ghana was a bit of a mystery, however. Although it received little money from the Global Fund, bought few nets, and had to charge patients for drugs, malaria deaths still fell 34 percent.
"This is extremely exciting," Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund said of the findings. "If this is done everywhere, we can reduce the disease burden 80 percent to 85 percent in most African countries within five years."