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World Malaria Day 2011

Two children with malaria rest at the local hospital in the small village of Walikale, Congo. (file photo)

About half of the world's population, are at risk of contracting malaria, especially those living in developing countries.

Some 3 billion people, about half of the world's population, are at risk of contracting malaria, especially those living in developing countries. Malaria infects more than 500 million people per year and kills nearly 800,000. The disease is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, but it also afflicts Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and occasionally, parts of Eastern Europe.

That is why in 2007, the World Health Organization, or WHO, which is a part of the United Nations, declared April 25th World Malaria Day. On this day, WHO hopes to shine a light on the global effort to control this terrible disease through the provision of timely and effective prevention and treatment measures.

Malaria is caused by parasites called Plasmodia, which are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once they enter the body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and severe headache. If left untreated, in the most serious cases the disease progresses to coma, and even death. Ninety percent of malaria deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2005, when the Administration of then-U.S. President George W. Bush launched the President's Malaria Initiative, the U.S. has been heavily involved in working to reduce the transmission rate and deaths caused by malaria.

In 2009, President Obama launched the Global Health Initiative as the next chapter of American leadership and incorporated the President’s Malaria Initiative as one of its core components.

Led by USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and implemented with the CDC, (Centers for Disease Control) the President’s Malaria Initiative relies heavily on a four-pronged, proven and cost-effective approach: the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets; indoor spraying with insecticides; intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women; and timely use of artemisinin-based combination therapies for those who have been diagnosed with malaria.

The goal of the President’s Malaria Initiative is to reduce malaria illnesses and death by half for 70 percent of at-risk populations in sub Saharan Africa, and to remove the disease as a major public health threat by 2014.

"Over the past 50 years the U.S government has been a major player in coordinated global efforts to beat back major killers like smallpox, polio and measles," said Retired Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, the coordinator of U.S. Global Malaria Programs. "With sufficient and sustained international commitment, we continue to achieve sustainable progress for malaria as well."