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Finding ways to improve efficiency in tackling malaria in Nigeria and other countries

Despite a significant increase in international support for prevention measures, malaria still claims the life of an African child every minute.

In its latest report on the disease published this week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that even the gains which have been made over the past five years are being put at risk by insufficient funding. Just over 5 billion dollars is needed every year to provide universal access to malaria interventions, but currently only 2.3 billion dollars is being made available.

So, for example, the distribution of mosquito nets has been a key element to cutting the death toll in Africa over the past few years. But according to the WHO, many families are no longer receiving new or replacement nets (the useful life of an insecticide-treated net is around three years). The number of nets delivered to sub-Saharan African countries dropped from a high of 145 million in 2010 to 66 million in 2012. A growth in indoor spraying programmes has also levelled off.

The president of Liberia, Ellen Jonhson Sirleaf, held a launch event for the WHO report in Monrovia. According to an article in The Guardian, she told the media “during the past eight years, scaled-up malaria control helped us avert over a million deaths”. Ms Sirleaf therefore urged the international community to keep up the momentum and prevent a resurgence of malaria cases.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are the worst-affected countries. These two nations alone account for two-fifths of all malaria deaths. Trials of affordable malaria medicines have been taking place in Nigeria over the past year, but for the majority of Nigeria’s population, access to anti-malarial drug treatments is poor. And less than a quarter of households have enough nets for all family members.

Targets for reducing deaths from malaria will only therefore be achievable if further efforts are made to distribute nets and provide wider access to diagnostic testing and medicines, particularly in countries such as Nigeria and the DRC. But it is unlikely significant extra funding will be forthcoming from governments, therefore the WHO is working to make the existing funds stretch further. The WHO, the UN’s child agency UNICEF and the World Bank are also exploring options to raise more money from taxes or with greater involvement from the private sector. All organisations understand the urgency of the situation and the life-saving nature of the work already being done.

Laurinda Luffman signature