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Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Azeris winning malaria battle
Mosquitoes: Tiny, but deadly carriers of malaria
By BBC Science's Helen Sewell

There has been an unprecedented fall in the number of people suffering from malaria in Azerbaijan.

International efforts to rid the country of the disease have led to an 80% reduction in the number of cases, the sharpest drop ever recorded anywhere.

Malaria affects more than 300 million people throughout the world. It kills over a million each year.

The disease is caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. People with malaria can develop a fever, headache, vomiting and convulsions.

The number of deaths worldwide is increasing, despite efforts to control the disease. But, in the best results seen so far in an anti-malaria programme, Azerbaijan has reversed the trend.

Beyond expectation

The original aim of the programme was to reduce malaria cases by 50% in three years.

In fact, there has been a drop of 80% in only two years.

The scheme is managed by the World Health Organisation and involves international agencies like the United Nations Development Programme.

Dr Guido Sabatinelli of the WHO says the results are impressive, but they will be expensive to maintain.

"The problem is maintaining the results because we now have to focus on more sustainable measures, and this requires the deep involvement of big agencies like the World Bank and the UNDP," Dr Sabatinelli said.

Single success

WHO says the successful fight against malaria in Azerbaijan is due to a number of factors, including the spraying of crops with pesticides and the better management of irrigation systems, where mosquitoes breed.

Azerbaijan's results do not have direct implications for the world's worst malaria regions in Africa, where the parasite is transmitted by a different type of mosquito.

But Azerbaijan's experience could provide lessons for its neighbours.

Health experts from 14 nations across the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the Middle East will put aside their political differences when they gather in Azerbaijan next week to find out about the country's success in reducing malaria, and to join in a common fight against the disease.

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