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Saving lives and promoting growth by controlling malaria in Ghana and Africa

In 2010, an estimated 655,000 people died worldwide from malaria, over four fifths of them children under the age of five.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the disease, which kills one child every minute. However, during the past decade, malaria prevention and control efforts have been scaled up significantly, with notable progress in sub-Saharan Africa where the vast majority of malaria cases occur.

According to the World Health Organization, the delivery of insecticidal nets delivered to households in malaria-endemic countries rose from just 5.6 million in 2004 to 145 million in 2010. Programmes to spray spray buildings with insecticides increased from 10 million in 2005 to 81 million in 2010. Improvements have also been seen in treatment programmes. The number of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) bought by health departments increased exponentially from 11 million in 2005 to 181 million in 2010.

In some countries, such as Ghana, costs are being reduced with trials of more affordable treatments. Through the Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria (AMFm) supported by the Gates Foundation, the UK government, UNITAID and the Global Fund, lower prices for ACTs have been negotiated with manufacturers and subsidies are also paid on behalf of the buying country. This has lowered the cost of ACTs from around 6-10 dollars per treatment to less than half a dollar. Results of the pilot trials in Ghana and elsewhere will be examined in 2012 to decide if the programme should be expanded.

But it isn’t only charity and publicly-funded schemes which are being assessed. A large South African gold-producing company has been investing in a malaria prevention programme around its Obuasi mine in Ghana. With the provision of nets, indoor spraying and drugs, cases of malaria have been cut drastically among the Obuasi miners and their families. The programme costs 1.3 million dollars annually, but it has cut the mine’s hospital bills from 55,000 dollars each month to less than 10,000 dollars and work days lost to illness have fallen from nearly 7,000 to less than 300. From this example, commercial companies are beginning to understand the economic benefits of helping communities protect themselves against malaria. According to one study, malaria-endemic countries in Africa lose over 1% growth each year because of the disease.

Many governments are therefore studying new malaria programmes closely to understand the cost benefits. Most excitingly, they are following the trials of the new vaccine against malaria with increasing interest. Already, tests in 2011 of the experimental vaccine showed it could halve the risk of children getting the disease. This vaccine could not only save many thousands of lives, governments and businesses are beginning to understand it could also significantly increase their prospects for growth.

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