Malaria cases down by 60 percent

The Eritrean government says the number of malaria cases in the country has dropped by 60 percent.

In a summary of its national malaria control strategy, the health ministry said the number of deaths from the mosquito-borne disease had decreased from 13.3 percent in 1999 to 4.2 percent in 2002.

The statement noted that 57 percent of the country's population - estimated at around 3.8 million - live in malaria risk areas. But it attributed the downturn to initiatives such as the wide distribution of insecticide-treated nets, spraying vulnerable areas, community participation and sensitisation.

Future challenges, it said, included sustaining community participation and community-based interventions. The programme also faces shortages of human resources and lack of transport to rural areas.

Dr Yohannes Ghebrat, Disease Prevention and Control Adviser for the World Health Organisation in Eritrea, told IRIN that the WHO still had to make its own assessment before it could confirm the figures.

"However, intervention by the ministry of health is showing a significant reduction in the morbidity from malaria," he said.

The government statement coincides with the UN's Africa Malaria Day, which was marked last week, during which WHO and UNICEF said 3,000 African children die every day from malaria.

In their joint report, they pointed out that insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) were a low-cost and highly effective way of reducing the incidence of malaria.

"They have been conclusively shown in a series of trials to substantially reduce child mortality in malaria-endemic areas of Africa," the report stressed. "By preventing malaria, ITNs reduce the need for treatment and the pressure on health services."