London, Oct 31 : The incidence of malaria has dramatically reduced in The Gambia, Western Africa, in the last five years, according to a new study, which raises the possibility of eliminating malaria as a public health problem in parts of Africa.
With the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, intermittent preventive treatment and various other malaria interventions programs to pregnant women and children under five, the malaria death rates have fallen by almost 82 percent in Gambia.
The analysis of data has shown that the number of malarial cases significantly reduced to 82 pct, 85pct, 73pct and 50pct between 2003 and 2007.
The researchers sought to determine incidence of malaria over the past nine years. Thy analysed the data of one hospital over nine years (January 1999-December 2007) and at four health facilities in three different administrative regions over seven years (January 2001-December 2007).
The study, during the same period at the three sites with complete admission records, malarial cases fell by 74 pct, 69pct and 27pct.
Also the proportions of malaria deaths in two hospitals fell by more than 90pct.
The team also found a substantial shift in the average age of children who were admitted to one hospital with malaria after 2004, with far fewer under 5s being admitted after that year.
The significant shift has been attributed to the increased use of ITNs, specifically targeted towards children under 5,
"These findings support the proposal that increased investment in malaria interventions in Africa can have a major effect on reducing morbidity and mortality from the disease," the Lancet quoted David Conway, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, study author, as saying.
"We need to consider the possibility of future elimination of malaria from some areas in Africa, but we also emphasise the importance of continuous surveillance, and there is no room for complacency with this disease," he added.
The researchers also attributed the dramatic drop to socio-economic changes, improvements in communications and access to education.
Also a change in chemotherapy is believed to have played a vital role - until 2004, chloroquine alone was mainly used but as parasite resistance to this drug had increased to high levels, the first-line treatment of choice became sulphadoxine plus pyrimethamine (SP) combined with chloroquine, from early 2005 onwards.
The findings are reported in The Lancet.