Since the start of the millennium, death rates for the mosquito-borne disease have fallen by more than a quarter, said the World Malaria Report 2011.
And Africa, where death rates have dropped by 33 per cent since 2000, has made some of the most dramatic progress.
But still the disease is killing one child a minute, and with funding shrinking, the world risks losing the lead it has made on the disease over the past decade, the WHO warned.
"We are making significant progress in battling a major public health problem,” said the WHO’s Dr Margaret Chan.
“Coverage of at-risk populations with malaria prevention and control measures increased again in 2010, and resulted in a further decline in estimated malaria cases and deaths. But there are worrisome signs that suggest progress might slow.”
The Breakthrough since 2000 has been put down to scaling up Malaria prevention and control, such as far wider use of anti-mosquito bed nets, better ways of diagnosing the disease and better access to treatments that work. During 2011 global malaria control programs received about £1.3 billion, up from £1 billion in 2010. But the worry now is that the current economic crisis and potential funding cut-backs for better prevention, diagnoses and treatment, could slow down this progress on tackling the disease and at worst, put it into reverse.
There is also the spectre of growing resistance to anti-malarial drugs, first confirmed in 2009 on the Cambodia-Thailand border and now suspected in Burma and Vietnam. To prevent drug resistance spreading, the WHO says that treatments based on the drug artemisinin are used in combination with other anti-malarials. But still 25 countries - most in Africa - still let drug makers advertise single drug treatments.
"We need a fully-resourced Global Fund, new donors, and endemic countries to join forces and address the vast challenges that lie ahead, said the director of WHO's Global Malaria Program, Robert Newman. “ Millions of bed nets will need replacement in the coming years, and the goal of universal access to diagnostic testing and effective treatment must be realized. We need to act with urgency and resolve to ensure that no-one dies from malaria for lack of a five dollar bed net, one dollar anti-malarial drug and a 50 cent diagnostic test."