25 April 2008 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the first-ever World Malaria Day today by launching a new drive to ensure that all of Africa, which accounts for the bulk of the more than one million malaria deaths every year, has access to critical interventions such as bed nets and sprays by the end of 2010.
Announcing a “bold but achievable” vision for universal coverage, Mr. Ban described the toll the disease is taking around the world as “unacceptable – all the more so because malaria is preventable and treatable.”
Halting and beginning to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases is one of the eight anti-poverty targets world leaders pledged to achieve by 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The Secretary-General, in a video message, noted that while several African countries have made dramatic strides in malaria control, the most affected nations “remain off track to reach the goal of halting and reversing the incidence of the disease.”
The new initiative will offer indoor residual spraying, and bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticide, to all people at risk, especially women and children in Africa. It will also ensure that all public health facilities have access to effective malaria treatment and diagnosis, and provide training to community health workers.
In addition, efforts will be stepped up to encourage research and development for longer term efforts to control, eliminate and eradicate malaria – which remains endemic throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We may not be able to entirely wipe out malaria right away,” Mr. Ban wrote in an op-ed that appeared today in London's Guardian newspaper. “But we can control it and dramatically reduce its toll, if we act together.”
“We have the resources and the know-how,” he added. “But we have less than 1,000 days before the end of 2010. So let's get to work.”
Experts say that malaria slows economic growth in Africa by as much as 1.3 per cent per year, and has a crippling effect on development efforts.
Ray Chambers, the UN Special Envoy for Malaria, noted that malaria costs the African continent something in the area of $30 billion a year in lost productivity. On the other hand, “the charge that the Secretary-General has given all of us today would cost about $2 billion a year,” he told journalists at UN Headquarters.
He added that what the Secretary-General is calling for is not the eradication of malaria in the next several years, since that would require a vaccine which might take several years or decades to achieve.
“In the meantime, from a humanitarian point of view, we must use the tools that we have to reduce morbidity and mortality as quickly as possible,” he said.
The head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that with the existing interventions, it is possible to reduce morbidity and mortality. “This is a very optimistic time,” said Director-General Margaret Chan, adding that the goal for 2010 is possible thanks to heightened political commitment, increased resources and better tools, such as improved medications and bed nets.
The UN has been coordinating global efforts to fight the disease through its Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, which was launched in 1998 by WHO, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.
UNICEF marked World Malaria Day today by calling for accelerated efforts to tackle the disease, which takes a particularly heavy toll on children.
“With an estimated 800,000 African children still dying from malaria every year, it is clear that much remains to be done,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.
Yesterday, the agency announced a partnership with religious, business and sports leaders to supply insecticide-treated bed nets for Africa through the “Nothing But Nets” campaign created in 2006 by the UN Foundation.
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