Accra, April 24, GNA - Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, has made an impassioned plea to African governments, communities, development partners and other stakeholders to "unite against malaria" and "beat" the disease, which kills more than 800,000 Africans every year.
"Let us rededicate ourselves collectively to a more coordinated fight against this public health challenge facing our continent," Dr Sambo said in a message to mark African Malaria Day, which falls on 25 April.
This year, the Day is being commemorated under the theme "Unite Against Malaria" and the slogan is "Together We Can Beat Malaria".
Both the theme and the slogan emphasize unity in action as they call for governments, partners, programmes and stakeholders to work together in a concerted and coordinated manner in the fight against malaria.
This war, Dr Sambo stressed in a statement received in Accra, "Can only be won if we work together".
April 25 commemorates the day, in 2000, when Heads of State or their representatives from 44 African countries met in Abuja, Nigeria, to deliberate on the problem of malaria and sign the historic Abuja Declaration and Plan of Action committing their countries to halving malaria deaths by 2010, and reaching specific targets on malaria prevention and control by 2005.
The mid term (2005) targets agreed in Abuja include the achievement of at least 60 per cent coverage levels using a combination of prevention and control methods for target groups.
Dr Sambo expressed regret that "five years after the Abuja summit, malaria remains a major contributor to the disease burden in Africa" with about 60 per of the 350 to 500 million global clinical malaria episodes occurring in African countries".
Weak health systems, absenteeism among school children, and diminished or lost worker productivity all contribute to make malaria a significant contributor to low economic growth in endemic countries costing Africa an estimated 12 million dollars annually, he said. The Regional Director, however, expressed satisfaction with the appreciable progress, which, he said, African countries were making in pursuit of the Abuja targets.
For example, 21 malaria-endemic countries have adopted the more efficacious Artemisin-based Combination Therapy, while 19 others are at various stages of implementing the strategy for home-based management of malaria.
Political commitment has also increased, as 20 countries had taken action to reduce tariffs and taxes on nets and insecticides, with the result that about 20 million nets are now in use in the region. Data also show that coverage levels of indoors insecticide spraying currently averages over 85% in seven countries.
Financial resources for malaria control activities in Africa have also dramatically increased with the Global Fund for the fight Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria allocating about 700 million dollars to 35 countries in the region for malaria prevention and control. Still, enormous challenges lie ahead, particularly in expanding coverage of the major interventions to the most poor people and vulnerable groups, Dr Sambo cautioned.
He stated that although most countries would not have achieved the Abuja mid-term targets at the end of 2005, there was reason to celebrate the modest successes the region had achieved in averting cases of ill health and deaths through the combined efforts of governments and partners.
Malaria, an ancient disease, is arguably the first killer of children under five in Africa. Civil strife, poverty and the development of resistance to drugs have conspired to make malaria to remain a serious public health problem in the Region.