Funding arrives to combat looming malaria epidemic

Ethiopia has secured US $20 million to help fight off a looming malaria epidemic which threatens tens of thousands of people, the health ministry told IRIN on Wednesday.

The announcement comes just days after the ministry and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the country was likely to be hit by a severe malaria outbreak.

According to ministry spokesman Ahmed Emano, money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, is expected to arrive in the country next week. It will be used to buy more than a million bed nets, malaria drugs and laboratory equipment for the country.

“This money has come just at the right time and will save lives,” Ahmed told IRIN.

He said the money would be used as part of the government’s campaign to cut the incidence of malaria by half by 2010, as well as helping tackle the looming epidemic.

Dr David Nabarro, global emergency head for WHO, warned last week it was vital that funding was released as soon as possible to combat the potential epidemic.

The health ministry said it would target the regions of Oromiya, Amhara, and Southern Nations and Nationalities People’s Region (SNNPR).

Around three quarters of Ethiopia’s one million square kilometres land mass is malaria prone – threatening some 40 million people. Around 100,000 die each year.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it was shipping in anti-malarial drugs this week worth US $740,000.

“It is imperative that we act now to save children’s lives,” said Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF head in Ethiopia.

“We know that in a good year malaria is a major childhood killer, but with so many children and mothers weak and malnourished from the drought emergency, the added danger of malaria without treatment could be disastrous,” he pointed out.

The anti-malaria drugs will be distributed through regional health centres and high-risk districts to make sure that a mass treatment can be carried out in case of an outbreak.