Malaria Day draws attention to often-fatal illness

Zanzibar marked Africa Malaria Day on Tuesday with an appeal for more aid money to control and possibly eliminate the tropical disease, which kills more than one-million people a year—many of them young children in Africa.

Malaria is spread by mosquitoes and causes wracking pain, fever and, if left untreated, death. It is the leading cause of death of those under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Officials in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago off the Indian Ocean coast, said they are making strides against the disease. Dr Salhiya Muhsin, head of the Preventive Services at the Mnazi Moja Hospital Care and Treatment Centre, said the United States Agency for International Development has distributed 130 000 insecticide-treated nets.

“We expect to do residual spray to all homes in Zanzibar by next month and distribute more treated nets.
But, this exercise needs money. We just appeal for more aid from other donors,” Salhiya said.

Malaria, which is both preventable and treatable, has been all but eradicated in wealthy nations. But as much as 40% of the world’s population are at risk, mostly in the poorest countries, WHO has said.

Anti-malarial drugs can be costly, and African poverty means few buyers, for even relatively inexpensive insecticide-treated bed nets.

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) announced that a new malaria treatment was being introduced in Somalia to replace drugs to which many have developed a high resistance. The treatment, artemisinin-based combination therapy, is made up of two drugs: artesunate and sulfadoxine-pyramethamine. Christian Balslev-Olesen, Unicef’s Somalia representative, said more than 450 health workers have been trained to implement the therapy.

Africa Malaria Day coincided with the publication of a scathing report from malaria experts who accuse the World Bank of reneging on promises to help fund the fight against the disease.

The World Bank disputed many of the issues raised in the opinion piece in the online version of The Lancet, a British medical journal. Though the bank acknowledges its malaria programmes have been under-funded in the past, its officials insisted it has moved to set things right.

The 12 experts who signed the Lancet piece, written by immunologist Amir Attaran, charged that the bank failed to honor a pledge made in 2000 offering between $300-million and $500-million in loans to fight malaria in Africa.

They also said the World Bank claimed success against the disease by falsifying data and approved clinically obsolete treatments for a potentially deadly form of malaria—charges the institution hotly denies.—Sapa-AP

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