UN chief to announce plan to eliminate deaths from malaria

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will announce a global initiative Friday that steps up the global fight against malaria - seeking to eventually wipe out a tropical scourge blamed for killing a million people a year, the AP reported.

In a video message for a World Malaria Day event at U.N. headquarters, Ban said the initiative will offer indoor spraying and bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticide "to all people at risk, especially women and children in Africa." The video was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

It will also ensure that public health facilities have access to effective malaria treatment and diagnosis, that health workers are trained to deal with the disease, and that research into its eradication is encouraged, Ban said.

Ban said he wants these measures in place in just a few years. "The aim is to put a stop to malaria deaths by ensuring universal coverage by the end of 2010."

The secretary-general said that several African countries "have made dramatic strides in malaria control, but the most affected nations remain off track to reach the goal of halting and reversing the incidence of the disease."

"That is why today, together with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, I am putting forward a bold but achievable vision," Ban said.

The Roll Back Malaria initiative was launched in 1998 by the World Health Organization and its partners with the goal of reducing malaria deaths by half by 2010. At the midway point, when they assessed their accomplishments, it turned out that there were more malaria cases than when they had started.

Some of the key interventions included distributing bed nets and using more insecticides - but the program never really got wide coverage. Only about 2 percent of African children sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets.

Ban and the partnership decided that they want to tackle the problem on a larger scale.

"Malaria still kills more than one million people every year," he said. "The toll it is taking is unacceptable - all the more so because malaria is preventable and treatable."

American philanthropist Ray Chambers, who was appointed in February as the secretary-general's special envoy for malaria, said he is optimistic the goal of eventually eliminating malaria deaths.

"He (Ban) is able to call for that because we have the best technology - the long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets last approximately five years - and we have significantly more funding available than ever before in history," Chambers said in an interview.

Ban is calling for bet net coverage for an additional 500 million people - which will require 250 million bed nets.

"That's four-to-five times what we've done in the past, so that's a real ratcheting up," Chambers said.

Chambers said the Global Fund, World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups trying to fight malaria are assembling a team to provide supervision of the campaign.

"We have to address everywhere, but 90 percent of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, so the initial concentration will be in the most endemic countries," he said.

"We have the resources and the know-how," Ban said in his message. "But we have less than 1,000 days before the end of 2010."

Chambers stressed, however, that the campaign won't be over.

Ultimately, he said, the goal is eradication.

"We're not likely to eradicate malaria without an effective vaccine, and that might be quite a few years away," Chambers said.

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