- With three months to go before the rainy season triggers Mali's annual malaria epidemic, the Bamako government and international public health donors have kicked off an unprecedented anti-malaria campaign targeting children and pregnant women. This year, authorities finally hope to win the annual battle against the parasite causing malaria.
There are 800,000 cases of malaria among Mali's 11.7 million people every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). But Mali's Health Ministry estimates the number of cases is in fact closer to two million.
Malaria is a life-threatening parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes. The WHO's statistics say malaria accounts for 17 percent of child deaths in Mali. One in five Malian children die before their fifth birthday, making the country one of the unhealthiest places to be born in the world.
Mali won multi-million dollar donations this year from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and from the US President's Malaria Initiative, which will between them cover around 50 billion franc CFA (US$ 1 million) of the 120 billion CFA (US$ 2.4 million) the government estimates the campaign will cost. Mali's government says it will meet the balance.
Drugs to treat malaria will be distributed around the country in March and April. Pregnant women are to receive mosquito nets and preventive treatment, and a campaign to spray mosquito repellent inside and outside houses and public buildings will be launched.
The Bamako government also promised that all children under five will receive free treatment at health clinics this year.
"The eradication of malaria is an urgent task, but also an achievable objective," said Health Minister Zeinab Mint Youba. She added that 2007 "will mark the turning point" in the fight against malaria in Mali.
Of the one to three million people worldwide who die of malaria every year, 90 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds, according to WHO. Of those, several hundred thousand live in the Sahel region of West Africa, which encompasses Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and parts of Senegal, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.
A combination of poverty, under-nutrition, and poor health services mean some 550,000 children die every year in the Sahel, around half of them from causes not related to hunger, according to United Nations statistics.
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