NEW YORK, USA, 24 April 2007 - Each year, between 350 million and 500 million people are infected with malaria, and 1 million die from the disease. Malaria accounts for one death every 30 seconds in Africa alone.
Though the challenge to make a significant impact in endemic countries is daunting, all is not lost as UNICEF, its partners and governments gather to rally the world for Africa Malaria Day on 25 April.
For 2007, the annual observance will focus on the need for global partnerships to reverse the spread of malaria in Africa - in hopes of eradicating the deadly disease, which is crippling so much of the continent's youth.
Devastating a continent
It was not so long ago that malaria was a worldwide scourge. Medical and social innovations were able to eliminate the disease in some areas, but malaria is still devastating many parts of the world - especially sub-Saharan Africa, where up to 90 per cent of all malaria fatalities occur.
In much of Africa, malaria strains already overburdened health systems. The majority of cases occur in children under the age of five. Malaria-infected pregnant women are also at risk of contracting anaemia, putting their lives and those of their unborn children at risk.
In addition, weakness caused by the disease in adults can severely impair their ability to work, limiting the means of livelihood for families and communities, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Resources for the future
Malaria is deadly, but there are ways to treat it and tools to prevent it. At a cost of just $10 each, for example, insecticide treated bednets (ITNs) have been shown to reduce malaria deaths by up to 20 per cent, with each net lasting up to five years.
UNICEF has been a major proponent of the use of ITNs to fight malaria, funding the procurement and distribution of these lifesaving nets across Africa. The organization has also played a key part in the Roll Back Malaria campaign to heighten public awareness about the importance of fighting this disease.
Changes in health policy at the country level are also opening doors to the use of anti-malarial drugs and combination therapies to treat those who have already been infected.
The treatments are available and the education is there. What are needed now are the resources. Africa Malaria Day 2007 is a day for the world to speak with one voice, and the message is clear: Yes, malaria is deadly, but it is also preventable.