WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) More African children are getting insecticide-treated bed nets in their homes, and more are being treated for malaria, UN and children's health experts said in a report released today.
They said it was the best news in decades about malaria, but said nets still were distributed only in a few countries and many people at risk weren't getting the best treatment for the mosquito-borne disease, which kills an estimated 1 million people a year.
''For the first time we are now able to report on improvements in preventive measures for malaria control, such as insecticide-treated net use,'' reads the report from the United Nation's Children's Fund UNICEF.
''Global funding for malaria control has risen more than 10-fold over the past decade,'' UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman told reporters in a conference call.
She said that the number of insecticide-treated nets being produced worldwide had more than doubled from 30 million in 2004 to 63 million in 2006.
But the report said as many as 264 million insecticide-treated nets were needed to protect 80 percent of the pregnant women and children under age 5 at risk of malaria in Africa.
''The report also reveals progress in the treatment of malaria,'' added Veneman.
More countries are using drugs recommended by the World Health Organization for treating malaria.
Older drugs no longer work against many strains of the infection, caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. But the newer therapies based on drugs called artemisinins are effective -- if patients can get them.
The report said across sub-Saharan Africa, 34 per cent of children with fever are given anti-malarial medicines.
STAGGERING TOLL ''The human toll of malaria is staggering,'' the report reads.
''Between 350 million and 500 million episodes of clinical malaria occur each year, leading to an estimated 1 million deaths, most in sub-Saharan Africa and among children under age five.'' Malaria also contributes to malnutrition, a factor in more than half of deaths among children under age 5 globally.
Work is proceeding on a vaccine, but the next best way to prevent infection is by using insecticide-treated bed nets, the WHO says.
One study in Kenya found that for every 1,000 children who sleep under nets, five or six child deaths can be prevented every year.
The report identifies some successful programs. ''For example, more than 10 million insecticide-treated nets have been distributed in Kenya since ... 2003,'' the report reads.
Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer of the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative said 230,000 nets had been distributed on Tanzania's Zanaibar islands.
''Already a health impact is apparent,'' Ziemer told reporters.
He said local health officials reported an 87 per cent drop in cases of malaria on Pemba island, from 12,000 cases in 2005 to 1,500 cases in 2006.
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