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Malaria Deaths Falling Slowly, WHO Report Says


Anopheles mosquito; courtesy of iStockphoto/abadonian

In the long fight against malaria, progress finally seems to be coming, if incrementally. The number of people who died from malaria in 2010 fell 5 percent from the previous year and has dropped 26 percent from 2000 levels, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.

The decline might seem modest given the $2 billion that has been given to fight the disease in the past year. But even this small most recent dip suggests that "investment in malaria control brings results," Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said in a statement.

The parasitic disease killed approximately 655,000 people in 2010, most of whom were children under the age of 5. The preponderance of malaria cases is still in Africa, where people are also more likely to succumb to the disease.

Although treatment via artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) has greatly helped to bring the number of deaths down worldwide, Chen and others are worried by cases of artemisinin resistance reported in the past few years. With quick and cheap diagnostic tests now more widespread, the WHO recommends that no one receive malaria drugs without a test. And because the parasite can quickly develop resistance to a single drug, Chan says all monotherapies should be taken off the market.

"The estimated yearly number of malaria cases, though declining, is still 223 million," she said. "That would be a huge and totally unacceptable number of people to be left with no effective treatment."

Even with effective available therapies, the WHO failed to meet the goal of 50 percent decline in deaths between 2000 and 2010. And it seems to have a battle ahead if it hopes to meet the target of ending all deaths from malaria by 2015.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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