WHO adopts universal test
GLOBAL efforts to combat malaria have saved over one million lives worldwide and reduced malaria deaths in Africa by over 33 per cent in 10 years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This emerged yesterday as WHO declared that as part of efforts to combat malaria, it had on the eve of the World Malaria Day 2012, adopted a new initiative tagged “T3: Test, Treat, Track” which urges malaria-endemic countries and donors to move towards universal access to diagnostic testing and anti-malarial treatment, and to build robust malaria surveillance systems.
According to a statement released yesterday by the WHO, “a massive acceleration in the global distribution of mosquito nets, the expansion of programmes to spray the interior of buildings with insecticides, and an increase in access to prompt anti-malarial treatment has brought down malaria mortality rates by more than a quarter worldwide, and by one third in Africa since 2000.”
The WHO hails global progress in combating malaria but highlights the need to further reinforce the fight. The UN body said simply maintaining current rates of progress would not be enough to meet global targets for malaria control.
WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, said: “Increased investment in malaria prevention and control, in the past 10 years, has saved more than a million lives. This is a tremendous achievement. But we are still far from achieving universal access to life-saving malaria interventions.”
WHO therefore urges the global health community to further scale up investments in diagnostic testing, treatment, and surveillance for malaria in order to save more lives and to make a major push towards achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.
According to WHO, endemic countries should be able to ensure that every suspected malaria case is tested, that every confirmed case is treated with a quality-assured anti-malarial medicine, and that the disease is tracked through timely and accurate surveillance systems.
WHO has published technical guidance for all three pillars of T3: Test, Treat, Track – releasing the final two documents of the package, Disease Surveillance for Malaria Control, and Disease Surveillance for Malaria Elimination, yesterday.
Chan, who is in Namibia for the World Malaria Day this year said: “Until countries are able to test, treat, and report every malaria case, we will never defeat this disease. We need strong and sustained political commitment from all countries where malaria is endemic, and from the global health community, to see this fight through to the end.”
According to the WHO, on half of all malaria-endemic countries in Africa, over 80 per cent of cases are still being treated without diagnostic testing. Universal diagnostic testing will ensure that patients with fever receive the most appropriate treatment, and that anti-malarial medicines are used rationally and correctly. Countries that have already scaled up diagnostic testing (such as Senegal) are saving hundreds of thousands of treatment courses every year.
The WHO statement reads: “Many countries have made significant progress in improving access to anti-malarials. In 2010, 60 governments were providing Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs) free of charge to all age groups. But millions of people still lack ready access to appropriate treatment. Effort must be scaled up to ensure that every confirmed malaria case gets treated.
“Improved surveillance for malaria cases and deaths will help countries determine which areas or population groups are most affected. It will also help ministries of health to identify resurgences and map new trends – thus maximising the efficiency of prevention and control programmes. Better surveillance will also allow for a more effective delivery of international aid programmes.”
The Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, Dr. Robert Newman, said: “T3: Test, Treat, Track aims to galvanise endemic countries and their partners to build on the success of malaria prevention efforts over the past decade.
“In recent years, there has been major progress in the development of new diagnostic tools and highly effective anti-malarial medicines. The challenge now is to ensure these tools get used, and that countries accurately measure their public health impact.”
According to the WHO, during the past decade, global malaria prevention and control efforts have been scaled up, with notable progress in sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of malaria cases occur.
The number of long-lasting insecticidal nets delivered to malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 5.6 million in 2004 to 145 million in 2010. Programmes to spray the interiors of buildings with insecticides were also expanded, with the number of people protected in sub-Saharan Africa rising from 10 million in 2005 to 81 million in 2010.
The WHO said the availability of rapid diagnostic tests had made it possible to improve and expand diagnostic testing for malaria. The rate of testing in the public sector in Africa rose from less than five per cent in 2000 to 45 per cent in 2010.
Meanwhile, the number of ACTs procured worldwide by government health departments also increased exponentially: from 11 million in 2005 to 181 million in 2010.
But according to the WHO, malaria transmission still occurs in 99 countries around the world, and the malaria burden continues to cripple health systems in many African countries. In 2010, this entirely preventable and treatable disease caused an estimated 655,000 deaths worldwide. About 560,000 of the victims were children under five years of age, which means malaria killed one child every minute.
Executive Director, Roll Back Malaria Partnership, Dr. Thomas Teuscher, said: “Sustaining recent gains in Africa will require continued political commitment and funding. An estimated three million lives can be saved between now and 2015, if we continue to work in partnership and if governments in endemic countries redouble their efforts to provide people with essential health services.”