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Malaria Epidemic Threatening 6 Million Ethiopians


With Malaria Epidemic Threatening 6 Million Ethiopians, Unicef Calls For Funds

With more than 6 million Ethiopians, most of them children, threatened by a potential nationwide malaria epidemic, and polio continuing to spread, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that it urgently needs nearly $22 million to ward off the danger of tens of thousands of additional deaths.

“While polio is continuing to spread, a UNICEF-supported nationwide vaccination campaign planned for October and November is badly under-funded,” it reported in its latest update on the Horn of Africa country.

“Emergency health and nutrition interventions are funded for 41 per cent. Vital water and sanitation programmes only received 20 per cent of their funding. UNICEF urgently needs $21.9 million to fight Ethiopia's looming malaria epidemic, fund a nationwide polio immunization drive and reach 963,855 people in critical need of water,” it said.

While full mortality figures for the last major epidemic from April to December 2003 are not yet available, it is estimated that 6.1 million malaria cases occurred and between 45,000 and 114,000 people died, according to a study published in the East African Medical Journal in April.

Similar figures are expected if there is another full-blown malaria epidemic in 2005, UNICEF said. These figures are over and above the 100,000 Ethiopians who die of endemic malaria in an average non-epidemic year, 80,000 of them children under the age of five.

UNICEF noted that a sharp rise in malaria cases and deaths from June to August, together with a widespread increase in malaria parasites and other worrying signs, are raising fears of a nationwide malaria epidemic.

High rainfall and epidemiological trends are adding to concerns that an epidemic could occur during the ‘long’ transmission season from October to December. Supplies of the new anti-malaria drug Artemether-Lumefantrine (brand name Coartem), have already been consumed in large quantities to control malaria earlier in the year, it said.

Although there are signs that the initial surge from June to August has subsided due to prevention and control by UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and other members of the Roll Back Malaria partnership, the current rise in parasites and other worrying factors are adding to concerns that Ethiopia is merely experiencing a lull before the onset of a full blown epidemic, UNICEF said.

Such an epidemic would exhaust its stocks of Coartem and quinine. Ethiopia needs another two million doses of Coartem, costing $4 million, to ensure adequate stocks for this year and maintain overall emergency response capacity. An additional $125,000 is also requested for emergency quinine for the treatment of severe cases including infected infants and pregnant women.

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