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UN Hails Significant Progress in Fight Against Malaria

Five African States Reduce or Abolish Taxes for Bed Nets - A Model for Other Countries

Geneva/New York/Abuja, 25 April 2001-- In a move that promises to protect millions of people from the danger of malaria, five African countries have recently reduced or abolished taxes on insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) to make them more affordable to their populations. They include: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Bed nets are considered one of the most effective measures for malaria prevention but are too expensive for many families to afford. A major reason: states continue to charge large import duties and domestic taxes on finished bed nets, netting material, and insecticides. The tariffs can comprise 30 or 40 % of the retail price of the nets.

"In some countries, the price of a treated bed-net is as much as 8% of per capita GNP," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). "Making these effective prevention tools available to all who need them is one of the big challenges African governments face in their war against malaria."

The news is part of a new report issued by Roll Back Malaria, a major United Nations/World Bank-sponsored initiative, to mark the first Africa Malaria Day. The primary goal of Roll Back Malaria is to reduce malaria-related mortality by 50% by 2010.

One of the World's Deadliest Diseases

Malaria is one of the world's deadliest infectious diseases and a major obstacle to development in Africa south of the Sahara. Nearly one million people die from malaria each year in Africa alone, most of them children. The disease accounts for 20 % of under-five mortality in Africa and constitutes 10 % of the continent's overall disease burden. Those numbers rise significantly in malarial areas, where the disease accounts for 30-50 % of in-patient admissions and incurs 40 % of total public health expenditures.

When properly used, treated bed nets can reduce the risk of transmission by as much as 63 %. Recent surveys show that sleeping under an insecticide impregnated bed net reduced mortality by 25 % in Gambia, 17 % in Ghana and 33 % in Kenya. Sleeping under a bed-net also reduces prevalence of anemia in children. However, in most malaria endemic regions, fewer than 10 % of children or pregnant women regularly sleep under ITNs.

"Malaria continues to kill a child every 30 seconds, making the present malaria toll in Africa a flagrant violation of the rights of children and women", said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The report, written by Boston University for Roll Back Malaria, says that cutting taxes and driving down prices is crucial, but only part of the solution. There is need to ensure private sector investment in importing and manufacturing treated bed nets, and government subsidies to make ITNs (insecticide-treated bed nets) affordable to the poorest families.

The reduction in taxes by the five countries is in response to the Abuja Declaration of April 25, 2000, signed by representatives of 38 African states. It committed governments to implement reductions in the tariffs and taxes imposed on ITNs, netting materials, and insecticides. Several more countries have indicated an intention to take action on the issue, according to the report.

More on Malaria

Malaria has severe negative effects on maternal health and birth outcomes. It causes anemia, is associated with increased risks of miscarriage, and is responsible for one-third of preventable low birth weight -- one of the main causes of mortality in an infant's first month of life and a major cause of poor child development.

The rapidly expanding resistance to what were once effective, low-cost anti-malarial drugs has added to the difficulty in addressing this curable disease. This makes the prevention of malaria and large-scale action to provide better medicines and prompt treatment all the more urgent.

The economic impacts of malaria are profound. Annual economic growth rates in countries with high malaria transmission over a period of 25 years were 1.3 % lower than in non-malarious countries, according to the report. Compounded over the fifteen year period 1980-1995 this annual drop in growth leads to a 20 % reduction of GNP per capita.

About Roll Back Malaria

Roll Back Malaria is a partnership initiated in 1999 by WHO, UNICEF, the United National Development Programme and the World Bank. It seeks to work with governments, other development agencies, NGOs, and private sector companies to reduce the human and socio-economic costs of malaria. The initiative's goal to halve malaria mortality by 2010.

RBM's goals for 2005 are to ensure that: 60 % of people with malaria have prompt access to affordable and appropriate treatment; that 60 % of pregnant women have access to preventive treatment; and that 60 % of the population at risk use bed nets or other preventive measures. The programme requires 32 million nets and 320 million insecticide retreatments each year.

"The political will to reach this goal is there," said David Alnwick, manager of the Roll Back Malaria project. "What we now need is for African governments, the international community and the private sector to strengthen partnerships and expand the resource base so that we can scale up action."

For further information, please contact:

François Charlier, Roll Back Malaria, Geneva, Tel: 41 22 791 45 86
Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF New York, Tel: 212-326-7516