Kenya hopeful it can eliminate malaria

The number of children aged five and under using bednets rose from one in 20 in 2003 to one in two in 2006 Copyright: WHO/TDR/Crump

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[NAIROBI] Kenya hopes to eliminate malaria by 2017, a malaria conference heard last week.

The disease has been in decline in the country in recent years and scientists say they are optimistic that it can be eliminated by then.

The goal was announced by Beth Mugo, minister of public health and sanitation, at the opening of last week’s 5th MIM Pan African Malaria conference in Nairobi. Implementation will be steered by a National Malaria Strategy (NMS), which the government launched at a separate event.

"We are at a point of moving towards a malaria-free Kenya in 2017," said Willis Akhwale, head of the country’s Department of Disease Control and Prevention.

"Health systems strengthening, the development of effective medicines, human resources capacity building and more will be necessary to achieve this," said Mugo.

"Eliminating malaria in 2017 is possible based on current technologies and adequate funding," said Elizabeth Juma, head of the Division of Malaria Control.

The timeline is based on the findings of a 2007 Malaria Indicator Survey, which demonstrated that transmission is declining in most parts of the country — although seasonal transmission in arid and semi-arid areas is still at worrying levels.

"We plan to change the strategy of intervention in the arid and semi-arid areas and launch a mass drug administration campaign in areas where the disease is endemic," said Akhwale. Experts told the MIM meeting that elimination was not possible without mass drug administration. Elimination occurs when malaria prevalence drops to zero in a region, while eradication achieves the same on a global scale.

Some 13 per cent of pregnant women in Kenya now use insecticide treated nets (ITNs) in all malaria endemic areas, according to the 2007 survey. The number of children aged five and under using ITNs rose from under five per cent in 2003 to more than half in 2006.

Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, said he was confident that Kenya would meet the 2017 target but he added that success depended on improved political will as well as the development of new tools to improve disease surveillance.

It was also essential for communities to realise that they are "not just recipients of drugs but they play an important part in the fight against malaria", he said.

Akhwale said Kenya would need US$100 million if it were to meet the target. NMS plans to decentralise control and to prioritise monitoring and evaluation.