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WHO: emergency measures against malaria in Niger

World Health Organization takes emergency measures against malaria in Niger

GENEVA -- Seeking to avert a second wave of deaths among Niger’s undernourished children, the World Health Organization (WHO) is dispatching 100 000 antimalarial treatments to the west African country, where peak malaria season has begun in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

Malaria causes more deaths each year in Niger among children under five years of age than any other single infection.

The current humanitarian crisis in Niger is chiefly a consequence of inadequate rains and a locust invasion in 2004, which resulted in poor harvests. Both farmers and nomadic herders have been struck by hunger.

“Even under ordinary conditions in Niger, 50% of all deaths among children under five are from malaria. Without appropriate measures the toll could rise even higher, because malnutrition makes children more likely to succumb to the disease. It also makes malaria less likely to be diagnosed, because it causes the symptoms of the disease to be less recognizable,” said Dr David Nabarro, Representative of the WHO Director-General for Health Action in Crises.

In the current crisis, some 200 000 children will remain at risk for malnutrition during the peak malaria season, which runs through October, and as many as half of them could contract malaria during that time.

WHO will provide artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), the most effective available treatment for falciparum malaria, the deadliest form of the disease and the type found in Niger. The medicines will be divided among the therapeutic feeding centres—each of them associated with a health centre—in the 16 districts that are at high risk of both malnutrition and malaria.

Because Niger only recently made the decision to adopt ACTs for the first-line treatment of uncomplicated malaria, many of its health workers are not fully acquainted with their use. To fill that gap, last week WHO sent a team of malaria experts. They have trained 40 health workers, who are now fanning out across Niger, holding workshops on the correct use of ACTs and refresher courses on the diagnosis and treatment of malaria, especially in malnourished young children. WHO’s nutrition team is providing additional training on how to treat malnutrition and its medical complications.

A malaria prevention initiative is also underway in Niger. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has donated 50 000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to WHO for distribution in Niger to children at risk of malaria. Sleeping under a treated net is a highly effective prevention against this disease.

“For Niger’s children, malaria represents just as big a threat as hunger at present. We hope our efforts will help the country to cross this difficult passage, without losing more young lives to this preventable and curable disease,” said Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Director of the WHO Roll Back Malaria Department.

Halting and beginning to reverse the incidence of Malaria by 2015 is one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Technical note: The medicine sent to Niger is artesunate + amodiaquine, one of four artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) recommended by WHO.

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