In Brief

Malaria deaths halved but progress threatened by Ebola

'Tremendous achievements' could be reversed in West Africa as Ebola outbreak continues, warns WHO

Global malaria deaths have decreased dramatically, but the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that progress could be reversed by the effects of the Ebola virus.

Since 2000, the number of people dying from malaria has almost halved, with 13 of the 97 malarial countries reporting no cases of the disease last year. This was made possible by the widespread distribution of insecticide treated nets and significant improvements in diagnostic testing and treatment.

"These tremendous achievements are the result of improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the BBC.

Because of such efforts, 4.3 million deaths were prevented – 3.9 million of those were children under the age of five in Sub Saharan Africa. Globally, malaria was responsible for the deaths of 584,000 people in 2013.

"The next few years are going to be critical in showing that we can maintain momentum and build on the gains," Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO's global malaria programme told Al Jazeera.

However, the spread of the deadly Ebola virus has had a "devastating impact" on the battle against malaria in West Africa, as the ongoing Ebola outbreak places increased pressure on already crumbling health care systems.

In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the countries worst affected by the outbreak, many of the inpatient clinics are closed and patients exhibiting a fever – a symptom of both malaria and Ebola – are often afraid of coming forward.

Although global funding for malaria prevention and treatment has tripled during the last eight years, reaching £21.7 billion last year, analysts warn it still falls short of the estimated £3.2 billion needed for containment and eradication, The Guardian reports.

Chan is still optimistic the war against malaria can be won. "We have the right tools and our defences are working," she said. "But we still need to get those tools to a lot more people if we are to make these gains sustainable."

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