Roll Back Malaria: Protect Women and Children

Statement by Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
On Africa Malaria Day
Washington D.C., 25 April 2003

Today, we at UNICEF are proud to join our partners here in commemorating Africa Malaria Day – with its theme of “Roll Back Malaria: Protect Women and Children”.

On this occasion we are also happy to launch this first “Africa Malaria Report 2003” jointly prepared by UNICEF and WHO with input from the World Bank, CDC and USAID.

This report was released earlier today in Nairobi by President Kibaki of Kenya. We will have a fuller presentation of the report in a panel discussion later this morning. So let me just highlight a few key points now.

This is the most comprehensive assessment todate of the burden of malaria and the status of progress in tackling it in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UNICEF end-decade Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) were a primary source of data for this report.

There are 2 key messages of this report. One of fear and one of hope.

There are 2 key messages of this report. One of fear and one of hope.

Fear, because malaria is becoming an increasingly African disease, with 90 percent of all malaria deaths in the world concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, and 90 percent of these deaths occurring among young children.

Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds. Just think of what that means – more children will die of malaria this morning than all the people who have died so far in the world since the inception of SARS. I know it is unfair to compare 2 sets of tragedies, but I mention this just to highlight the magnitude of the malaria problem, precisely because it is not headline news.

In the most endemic countries of Sub-Saharan African upto 50 percent of all hospital admissions are due to malaria.

Malaria is also a major cause of complications in pregnancy contributing to the very high rates of maternal anaemia, miscarriage, maternal deaths, and high rates of school absenteeism.

In Africa malaria is proving resistant to treatment regimes that have worked well elsewhere in the past.

In an already impoverished region, malaria costs Africa $12 billion every year in lost GDP, although just a fraction of that amount could help control it.

But there is good news too: since the launch of the Roll Back Malaria in 1998, resources available have tripled from $60 million to $200 million a year. In the coming years, we expect that amount to double again, thanks to the new Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria.

There has been continuing advance in the low-cost technology of insecticide treated bednets which can reduce young child mortality by 1/5th and morbidity by half.

An intermittent preventive treatment of anti-malarial drugs given to pregnant women twice during ante-natal clinics is proving to be very cost-effective to prevent malaria.

A new generation of anti-malarial drugs (called artemisinin-based combination treatments or ACTs) is proving to be a very effective first line of defence against malaria.

And our knowledge and experience of early detection and treatment of malaria in epidemics, can lead to dramatic decline in the transmission of this dreaded disease.

The world leaders set a specific goal of 50 percent reduction in the burden of malaria by 2010 as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

At the Abuja Summit, African leaders endorsed this Millennium Goal and further specified a set of intermediate targets.

These goals and targets are eminently achievable. This report gives many examples of how some countries in Africa have already made a promising start, and how we can together help all of Africa to roll back malaria.

Control of malaria through proven low-cost technologies like widespread use of insecticide treated bednets, provision of effective anti-malarial drugs, and preventing malaria epidemics, needs to be made a vital component of Africa’s development if that continent is to have any hope of achieving the millennium development goals and fulfilling the aspirations of NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development).

From the point of view of child survival and development, effective action against malaria ought to be one of the highest priorities for international cooperation in Africa.

You can all count on UNICEF to be a very vigorous partner in this great effort.

Thank you.