From: Reuters
Published November 27, 2007 07:56 AM

Global Fund head sees progress in malaria fight

GENEVA (Reuters) - Malaria is fading as a major public health problem in certain African countries where the killer disease is endemic, the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said on Tuesday.

Michel Kazatchkine, Global Fund executive director, said that malaria mortality rates for children under the age of five had dropped by more than 50 percent in areas of Tanzania and Eritrea in the last five years.

"We are on the right path -- not (yet) the definitive eradication of malaria -- but in any case the removal of malaria as a big problem of public health in numerous endemic countries in the next years," Kazatchkine told a news briefing.

Malaria still claims more than one million lives a year, killing a child every 30 seconds, mainly African children under the age of five.

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Insecticide-treated bed nets are one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent transmission of the disease, which is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes.

The Geneva-based Fund announced on Tuesday it had delivered 46 million insecticide-treated bed nets to families at risk of contracting malaria this year, against 18 million last year.

It was working to ensure that all African families are protected with bednets and that countries attain "universal coverage" or at least a 60 percent coverage rate after which child mortality diminishes significantly, Kazatchkine said.

"We are showing the feasibility of these interventions, and I am fairly confident that in a medium term of three to five years we could have a truly wide coverage," he said.

"Our challenge is to make bednets available for everyone at risk of malaria, especially children and pregnant women...," he added.

The number of malaria cases had also dropped significantly in South Africa, Mozambique and Burundi in recent years, according to the French expert who took over the helm of the Geneva-based fund last April.

The Global Fund, set up in 2002, is the largest provider of funds against malaria and has approved $3.6 billion in financing for 146 programs in 78 countries. It has also provided financing for drugs to treat 44 million people with malaria.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Diana Abdallah)

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