September 30, 2008 / 5:46 PM / 11 years ago

Africa needs to step up malaria fight: MSF

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - African countries can save more lives with free health care and rapid diagnostic tests to fight malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said Tuesday.

In a report on its work in Sierra Leone, Chad and Mali, the international medical group said there are effective tools to treat malaria but a limited number of patients have access to them and broader strategies were needed to fight the disease.

Meinie Nicolai, MSF’s general director in Brussels, said rapid tests to diagnose malaria and funding to treat the disease existed but remained insufficient.

“Newer and more effective drugs have started to arrive on the shelves, rapid tests exist that can confirm the diagnosis in 15 minutes,” Nicolai said.

“But many efforts are failing at the last hurdle and scores of sick people, mainly children, still do not get the treatment they need.”

Malaria can be fatal. It is transferred to humans from the bite of a malaria-infected mosquito.

Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population, mostly those living in the poorest countries, are at risk of malaria.

The vast number of malaria deaths occur among young children in Africa, especially in rural areas with poor access to health services. Every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria in Africa.

MSF said although effective medication to diagnose and treat malaria existed, only 3 percent of children in need of effective treatment received the anti-malaria drug, artemisin-based combination therapy (ACT).

“The provision of health care free of charge should be considered systematically for all malaria projects in poor settings,” said MSF.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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