NEW YORK (April 25, 2013) – Malaria still kills 660,000 people every year, most of them African children. Insecticide-treated bed nets are critical to eliminating deaths from malaria—one of the leading killers of children in the world, says UNICEF on World Malaria Day.
"It is unacceptable that every day more than 1,500 children still die from this preventable and curable disease," said Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF's Director of Programs. "We must distribute insecticide-treated nets to all who need them, and provide timely testing for children and appropriate medicine when they are infected."
In 2004, there were just 5.6 million bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa. Until recently, limited competition among producers meant that they were too expensive to scale up. However, by 2010, this number had increased to 145 million thanks to bulk buying, joint procurement, better financing and extending manufacturing capacity into Africa.
Since 2000, 1.1 million lives have been saved from malaria, and malaria mortality rates in Africa have declined by one-third.
With partners, UNICEF champions and supports governments to undertake the free distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets. When universal coverage—one net for every two people—is reached, this simple, effective barrier can reduce child mortality by up to 20 percent.
UNICEF, with governments, donors and other partners, looks for innovative ways to reach the most vulnerable and hardest to reach children. For example, in addition to free net distributions in the poorest and most remote areas, nets are also provided to children during routine immunizations and to pregnant women during prenatal check-ups.
From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of children sleeping under an insecticide-treated net in sub-Saharan Africa grew from less than 5 percent to more than a third. But global procurement of long-lasting lasting insecticide-treated nets has dropped by 52 percent against an annual target of 150 million. This slowdown risks gravely undermining the current gains if sustained focus and investments are not maintained.
"We have made considerable progress in this fight, but cannot take our eyes off the goal of reducing malaria cases and deaths to zero. We must make sure that countries have the funding they need for malaria control and use it to protect their children and expectant mothers," Alipui added.
A three-day treatment will cure malaria infections, especially if an episode is diagnosed early enough and treated appropriately—in particular with artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). But many children, especially in Africa, still die from malaria as they do not sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets and are unable to access lifesaving treatment within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.
UNICEF supports national efforts to train and provide community health workers with simple tools such as malaria rapid diagnostic tests so that children receive medicine quickly when needed. However, the percentage of treated children who receive a treatment such as an ACT is less than 30 percent in most African countries.
Fighting malaria not only saves the lives of children, but also yields many other health and economic benefits for affected communities. Reducing malaria improves the health of pregnant mothers and therefore their newborn babies. It also reduces school and work absenteeism and the burden on over-stretched health centers. It is estimated there is a 40-fold return for every $1 spent controlling malaria in Africa.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.