- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

GENEVA (Agence France-Presse) | Malaria killed nearly 1 million people worldwide in 2006, with children younger than 5 and African countries bearing the brunt, the World Health Organization says.

There were an estimated 247 million malaria cases among 3.3 billion people at risk in 2006, the WHO said in its Annual Malaria Report. A total of 109 countries were endemic for malaria in 2008, nearly half - 45 - in Africa, it noted.

Countries still lack sufficient resources to tackle the disease and even though public health services are procuring more anti-malarial medicines, access to treatment is still inadequate in all countries surveyed, the WHO said.

However, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told reporters Thursday that more progress had been made in the two years since the data had been collected.

“I am personally confident that we will have even better news next year. Right now, the momentum continues to build,” she said.

She called on pharmaceutical companies to increase research and development into new artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, amid reports some patients are beginning to show signs of resistance to the treatment.

“We are down to pretty well the last effective medicine, artemisinin, and the old anti-malarials have developed resistance to a different extent,” Dr. Chan said.

The report said that most African countries are way off meeting the 80 percent coverage target for the four main treatments - mosquito nets, drugs, indoor insecticide spray and treatment during pregnancy - set by the WHO in 2005.

For example, the survey found that supplies of insecticide-treated nets to national malaria-control programs were only sufficient to protect 26 percent of people in 37 African countries.

More than half of the African cases in 2006 occurred in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, the WHO said.

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