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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Nets boost Africa's malaria fight
A boy holds a mosquito net at a health clinic in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania
Insecticide-treated nets can reduce overall child mortality by 20%
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are making significant progress in fighting malaria, new statistics from Unicef and the World Health Organisation show.

Distribution of mosquito nets, widely regarded as the most effective prevention against malaria, has grown substantially across the region.

In countries where they are used, malaria deaths have dropped by half.

But even with some progress, about 800,000 African children under five still die from malaria each year.

Sixteen of 20 sub-Saharan countries report that the number of children using the mosquito nets has tripled since 2000.

The new report from the UN children's fund reveals that since 2004 the annual production of bed nets has more than doubled, from 30 million to 63 million.

In Gambia, half of all children now have bed nets.

Ethiopia has distributed 18m in the last two years alone.

The report also finds that national health programmes in malaria-endemic countries have benefited from a tenfold increase in international funding in the last decade.

Drug shortage

But while Unicef and the WHO are pleased with the progress in preventative measures, the death toll among African children remains unchanged.

Every year, 800,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria.

Meanwhile, fewer children are receiving life-saving drugs if they do get malaria.

This is because most African countries have followed WHO advice and phased out older treatments which had become ineffective - but have not yet brought in the newer, more expensive malaria treatment drugs.

But, the WHO says, increased production of the new treatments is now bringing prices down.

Since 2003, artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) have become the norm for use in national health programmes, according to the Unicef report.

"Still, it's a minority of children that get access to the best types of antimalarials," the chief of global health for Unicef, Dr Peter Salama, said.

"But with the strong backing of some of the international donors and the price of ACTs starting to be reduced, I think governments are becoming more confident now that this will be a sustainable strategy for antimalaria treatment in the future," he added.

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