September 25, 2008 / 7:22 PM / 11 years ago

Preventing malaria deaths to cost $5 bln a year

GENEVA (Reuters) - The world should spend more than $5 billion a year to prevent deaths from malaria, nearly five times the current spending to fight the mosquito-borne disease, an international health consortium said on Thursday.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership - comprised of United Nations agencies, the World Bank, leading drugmakers and aid experts - said that boosting spending on bed nets, medicines and malaria tests could save 4.2 million lives a year by 2015.

Its “Global Malaria Action Plan,” unveiled in the midst of a global financial crisis that may curb international aid budgets, called for malaria spending to increase to $5.3 billion in 2009, $6.2 billion in 2010 and $5.1 billion annually from 2011-2020.

Another $8.9 billion is needed in the next decade for research and development into malaria drugs, vaccines and tests, plus vector-control measures to fight mosquitoes, it added.

Spending on malaria, from both national governments and international groups such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, was about $1.1 billion last year.

Roll Back Malaria said the disease now causes at least $12 billion in direct economic losses for African countries a year.

“Minimizing the malaria burden means more people at work, more children at school and a break in the cycle of poverty,” it said in the action plan, developed with afflicted countries, aid groups and more than 250 public health and economic experts.

The proposal comes one week after the World Health Organization (WHO) sharply cut its estimate of how many people outside of Africa are infected with malaria each year, thus reducing its global estimate to 247 million infections.

The WHO had previously said 350 million to 500 million people were afflicted by malaria worldwide each year, a 2005 estimate it said had been extrapolated from out-of-date maps that did not account for urbanization that killed mosquito habitats in Asia.

Awa Marie Coll-Seck, who heads the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, said that huge WHO revision should not distract from the seriousness of malaria in Africa, where some 90 percent of the world’s nearly 1 million annual malarial deaths occur.

“The figures in Africa have not changed a lot. The disease is always there,” she told Reuters by telephone from New York, where she is attending a U.N. summit of world leaders.

The Roll Back Malaria plan’s funding requirements are based on the distribution of 730 million insecticide-treated nets in the next three years, plus annual purchases of 1.5 billion malaria tests, 228 million doses of combination-therapy drugs, and preventive treatments for 25 million pregnant women.

It also budgets for insecticide-spraying 172 million houses every year in areas most affected by the disease. “Malaria has affected people since the beginning of recorded history and the disease will not disappear easily,” the action plan said.

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