Malaria deaths could be stopped by 2015, the World Health Organisation says in a new report.
A huge push in the last three years to get bed nets and indoor spraying into at risk areas is showing signs of paying off, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
Malaria cases or hospital admissions and deaths have halved in 11 African countries over the past decade, the WHO’s world malaria report shows.
"By maintaining these essential gains, we can end malaria deaths by 2015," Ray Chambers, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for malaria, said in a statement with the report.
But while stopping people dying from the mosquito-born disease by 2015 is a possibility, the organisation warns that whether or not that happens will depend on funding.
It is an ambitious goal, said Robert Newman, from the WHO's global malaria programme. "It is a long way to go, so serious work has to be done. But this disease is entirely preventable and treatable, so it's the right aspirational goal," he told Reuters news service.
Over the last three years, UN agencies, governments and charities will have given out 289 million insecticide-treated bed mosquito nets to families in malaria-ridden countries. This is enough to protect 578 million people – 76 per cent of the 765 million at risk.
Spraying insecticide indoors protected 75 million people, or 10 per cent, of those at risk in 2009 and many more malaria patients are now getting the best drug treatment – artemisinin combination therapies.
But funding, estimated at £1.2 billion a year, falls far short of the £3.8 billion needed to fully control malaria, the WHO says.
By the middle of this year, still only 35 per cent of children in Africa were sleeping under a net, the report says, noting that it will also need to find the money to replace the nets that have gone past their use-by date. “Failure to replace these nets could lead to a resurgence of malaria cases and deaths,” it warns.
In 2000, about 985,000 people were estimated to have died from malaria. But by 2009, the number had dropped to 781,000. The biggest fall in the total number of deaths was in Africa.
Although, the disease did make a reported comeback in Zambia, Sao Tome and Principe and Rwanda. The WHO says it doesn’t know why the disease strengthened its hold in these countries, but says the fact that it did goes to show how crucial it is to keep up the current prevention efforts.