Continental blight

7th May 2004 at 01:00
An African child dies every 30 seconds from malaria. Of those who contract the disease but survive, many are left with brain damage. The effects of malaria in Africa are enormous, compounded by poverty and political instability in some parts of the continent.

Andy Seale of the WHO says: "Malaria keeps children away from school. It stops their parents getting out into the fields to harvest crops and tend animals. Without malaria, there's no doubt that some of the poverty experienced in Africa would be relieved."

The Harvard-based Centre for International Development estimates that Africa's output would be $100 billion higher if malaria had been eliminated from the continent 35 years ago. This figure amounts to five times all development aid provided to Africa in a single year.

In some African countries, malaria takes up to 40 per cent of public health spending and forms half of all hospital admissions and outpatient visits.

Roll Back Malaria, an international partnership of health and aid agencies including Unicef, the WHOand the World Bank, aims to halve the number of malaria deaths by 2010, promoting the following strategy: Every child should sleep under a bed net impregnated with insecticide.

This could reduce the death rate by between 20 and 30 per cent. At present, only about one in seven African children sleeps under a net and only 2 per cent have a net that has been insecticide-impregnated.

Every pregnant woman should have at least two doses of an effective antimalarial drug. Because of their weakened immune systems, pregnant women and newborns are particularly susceptible.

Effective antimalarial drugs should be widely available and affordable.

Countries at risk of epidemics need early-warning systems to respond quickly to outbreaks.

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