Dr Samba urges protection of pregnant women, children from malaria

Brazzaville, 25 April 2003 -- "As we commemorate Africa Malaria Day 2003, I call on our collaborators and partners to join hands with governments of the Region to protect our pregnant women and children". 
This is the thrust of the message issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Ebrahim Samba, on the occasion of the third Africa Malaria Day.

In his message Dr Samba stressed the need to ensure the availability of cost-effective interventions to Africa's pregnant women and children, whom he described as "the most vulnerable groups at risk of malaria."

This assessment is borne out by WHO estimates which show that about 90 percent of the over one million deaths caused by malaria worldwide occur in sub-Saharan African, mostly in children under the age of five. Many children who survive episodes of malaria may suffer from brain damage and learning impairments. Also, a large number of maternal deaths attributable to malaria-related anemia are recorded annually in the Region.

Dr Samba observed that Africa was making commendable efforts to reduce the high and increasing burden of malaria in the Region, citing measures taken by some countries to increase access of vulnerable groups to treatment, establish systems for monitoring the therapeutic efficacy of antimalarial drugs, and changing national first-line treatment policies for uncomplicated malaria.

Other positive actions taken by countries include the reduction of tariffs and taxes on nets and insecticides, and the introduction of policies for intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy into routine antenatal care.

He urged the 22 countries billed to receive some $220 million over the next two years from the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to "effectively use these additional resources to increase the coverage of major interventions".

Africa Malaria Day commemorates the anniversary of the African Summit on Roll Back Malaria (RBM) held in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2000 - the very first time the continent's leaders met to discuss a single disease. At that Summit, high-level delegations from all malaria-affected countries in Africa (including 19 Heads of State) signed on to the goal of RBM.

The Heads of State committed themselves to intensive efforts to:

 Halve the malaria mortality for Africa's people by 2010 through implementing the strategies and actions for RBM;
Initiate actions at regional level to ensure implementation, monitoring and management of Roll Back Malaria;
 Initiate actions at country level to provide resources to facilitate realization of RBM objectives; 
 Work with partners in malaria-affected countries towards stated targets, ensuring the allocation of necessary resources from private and public sectors and form NGOs; 
 Create an enabling environment in countries which will permit increased participation of international partners in malaria control actions.
To reach this goals, the African leaders agreed to "initiate appropriate and sustainable action to strengthen health systems to ensure that by 2005:

at least 60% of those suffering from malaria have prompt access to, and are able to correctly use, affordable, appropriate treatment within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms; 
at least 60% of those at risk of malaria, particularly children under five years of age and pregnant women, benefit from the most suitable combination of personal and community protective measures such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and other interventions which are accessible and affordable to prevent infection and suffering; 
At least 60% of all pregnant women who are at risk of malaria, especially those in their first pregnancies, have access to chemoprophylaxis or preventive treatment". 
A key event for the commemoration of Africa Malaria Day this year will be the launch of The Africa Malaria Report 2003, a report which presents the latest available evidence on the current epidemiological situation as well as the progress of countries towards the achievement of the Abuja targets. The report reveals that malaria continues to be an enormous impediment to health in Africa.
Today, a wide range of activities will be organized throughout Africa to focus the attention of the Region, its development partners and the global malaria control community to a disease which has severe negative effects on the health and economy of African countries.

Effective malaria control programmes with adequate coverage in countries of the Region could help to considerably stem the tide of maternal mortality, reduce the incidence of low birth weight babies, reduce the number of African children who succumb to the disease, and reduce the economic toll on worker productivity, wages, and cost of treatment.

For further information, please contact: 
Dr. M. Robalo - Malaria Regional Advisor
Email: robalom [at] whoafr.org 
Tel: +(263) 4 746000 or 746011

Samuel T. Ajibola
Public Information and Communication Unit 
Tel: 47 241  39378
Fax : + 47 241 39513 
World Health Organization - Regional Office for Africa 
P.O. Box 6, Brazzaville, Congo