SAN JOSE, California — A recent report published in the journal Nature shows that 700 million cases of malaria in Africa have been prevented since 2000 thanks to a concerted effort by the global health community.
The report shows that overall infections fell by 50 percent over that time period on the continent. Use of insecticide-treated bed nets proved to be the main reason for the decline in disease, accounting for 68 percent of the decrease. Other interventions include treatment with artemisinin, which accounted for 22 percent of the decline and another ten percent from spraying homes with insecticide.
Samir Bhatt, a researcher from Oxford University involved in the study, praised these rather simple solutions, calling them “phenomenal.”
“Just by putting these interventions you’ve managed to save all these cases,” he told BBC News. “Seven hundred million is a huge number and that’s the reality of what happened and that’s why it’s such an optimistic message.”
Separately, a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF shows that worldwide malaria-related deaths have plunged by 60 percent since 2000, and more than six million lives have been spared.
The report found that in 2000 an estimated 262 million cases of malaria resulted in 840,000 deaths, while projections for 2015 show that 214 million cases are likely to cause 438,000 deaths, Newsweek reports.
While this is certainly good news, the report says there is still work to be done. About 3.2 billion people – almost half the world’s population – remain at risk of contracting malaria and certain areas of the world remain at high risk. Newsweek reports that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 80 percent of malaria infections and 78 percent of deaths caused by the disease.
While malaria can attack any age demographic, children under the age of five are most susceptible. UNICEF estimates the disease is responsible for one in six of all deaths in young children in Africa.
New research by WHO counterpart, Malaria Atlas Project, confirmed that bed nets were “by far the most important intervention” in protecting against malaria in Africa. Since 2000, more than one billion nets have been distributed.
Experts say that now is not the time for complacency. “We need to really be careful that we don’t start reducing the number of interventions and keep driving forwards,” Oxford researcher Bhatt said. “We need to keep redoubling efforts.”
The ability for malaria to resist new drugs is a concern, Bhatt said, as it could “seriously hamper efforts to control the disease.” However, new drugs are being created to help negate those resistances.
For now, African countries, WHO, and UNICEF are happy with the positive progress on malaria in Africa. Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF said, “We know how to prevent and treat malaria. Since we can do it, we must.”
Chan supports that statement. She said she truly believes, “a malaria-free world is possible.”