U.N. Launches World Malaria Day

Today U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon launched World Malaria Day. "Malaria still kills more than 1 million people every year," he said. "The toll it is taking is unacceptable -- all the more so because malaria is preventable and treatable."

The United Nations is calling for the elimination of all malaria-related deaths by the end of 2010. "We have the resources and the know-how ," Ban said, "but we have less than 1,000 days before the end of 2010."

Below, ABC News takes a look at six countries battling malaria and assesses their progress in containing the disease.

NIGERIA

In Nigeria, Africa's most populated country, malaria poses a significant health risk, affecting at least 50 percent of its citizens, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO states that the disease is responsible for 25 percent of the deaths of children younger than 5. It estimates that about 24 million Nigerian children younger than 5 will suffer from at least two attacks of malaria annually.

In December 2006, the World Bank announced that it had doubled funding to fight malaria to the tune of $180 million. The money went toward a project that planned to cut the country's malaria cases in half by 2010.

But today, on World Malaria Day, Yemi Sofola, the national coordinator of the roll-back-malaria program, told reporters that the country would not be able to meet the 2010 deadline.

SENEGAL

In the African nation of Senegal, about 10 percent of the people suffer from malaria every year.

Children who are younger than 5 are particularly exposed to the disease. Protecting them is essential. A program is expected to be launched in the fall to immunize children.

"This treatment is part of a new preventive strategy," said Cheikh Sokhna, of the Development and Research Institute. "It will be applied to 100,000 children who live in high-risk zones."

The new treatment has been largely financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $3.9 million. It has already yielded spectacular results in the town of Niakhar, where the mortality rate from malaria decreased by 86 percent. "The aim is to see whether this can be repeated on a larger scale," Sokhna told Agence-France Presse.

"I am convinced that people can live with malaria without dying, thanks to better access to health care," said Sokhna.

YEMEN

In Yemen, a poor country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, societal instability accelerated the public health crisis. Social unrest led to a breakdown in prevention efforts during the 1990s, while heavy rainfalls resulted in malaria epidemics in 1995 and 1998.

Now the country sees 800,000 to 900,000 cases of malaria and roughly 12,000 fatalities each year, according to the WHO. Approximately 60 percent of the population live in malaria-affected areas.

The WHO describes malaria as one of the most serious health problems in Yemen. It is working with the Yemeni government to distribute mosquito control equipment to curb the disease.

Making matters worse, malaria is the most widespread disease among the influx of refugees arriving from war-torn Somalia, located across from Yemen along the Gulf of Aden.

INDIA

Asia is the often-forgotten younger sibling of Africa when it comes to malaria. Today there are 100 million cases here, most notably in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and 100,000 deaths every year.

Although in India the number of total infections has decreased by nearly half since 1996, the number of infections caused by the deadliest form of malaria has increased fourfold in 30 years.

That, advocates say, has come thanks to the breaking down of traditional borders.

In an interview with ABC News, Jai Narain, the director of the WHO's communicable diseases section in South East Asia, said, "The tendency of someone to be infected and then move to another part of the world -- the disease can move much faster than before."

Also, thanks to global warming, mosquitoes can now survive at 6,000 feet above sea level instead of just 3,600 feet.

The WHO warns that some parts of the country, especially at the base of the Himalayas, have only a third of the medical staff they need to cope with outbreaks. "The major emphasis we are pushing is that all the countries need to scale-up contingencies for these outbreaks. Until this scale-up occurs, we will not have much impact on malaria," Narain told ABC News.

INDONESIA

Indonesia is one of the countries worst hit by malaria in Asia.

Health Ministry figures quoted in The Jakarta Post say that there were 311,000 cases in 2007, while an estimated 700 people die of the disease each year. "

In fact, Indonesia is still one of the countries with the highest risks of malaria, especially in the eastern part of the country, " Nyoman Kandun, the director general for disease control and environmental sanitation, told the Jakarta Post.

To coincide with World Malaria Day the government has launched an initiative to completely eradicate the disease from the islands by 2030.

The government has been spurred on by concerns that it could be losing significant tourism-related revenues because the fear of malaria is keeping people away. A Health Ministry official explained to the Jakarta Post, "That's why preventive measures will be intensified in tourism areas such as Bali, Lombok and Batam."

BRAZIL

Malaria in Brazil accounts for 40 percent of the reported cases in the Americas. The disease afflicts vast areas of the Amazon region and the marshlands in the east of the country.

Recently, the Brazilian state health authorities announced a new cheap and effective treatment to wipe out malaria.

The treatment was developed by the Brazilian government and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative. It combines artesunate and mefloquine, both existing malaria drugs, into one single fixed-dose pill and costs just $2.50 for a full course. A single dose increases the efficacy of the treatment because there is less risk of patients not taking the pills.

So far, trials show success with the treatment.

In the state of Acre, an isolated part of the Amazon, studies showed that malaria cases had dropped by 70 percent.

The measure has been welcomed by the organization Doctors without Borders, and while it is not an all-out cure, there is much hope that it will prove to be a huge step in combating the disease, which claims the lives of 1 million people around the world.

Ben Barnier, Sonia Gallego, Ammu Kannampilly, Zoe Magee, Nick Schifrin, and Lara Setrakian contributed to this report.

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