Britain declares war on malaria

THE Government will today launch a multi-million pound global programme to combat malaria as part of a drive which could eliminate the deadly disease in 30 years.

The project aims to tackle the growing threat from the mosquito-borne disease, which claims more lives in Africa than Aids and is spreading to new parts of the globe. It has also been prompted by concerns that the disease is showing resistance to some existing drugs.

Tony Blair will pledge tens of millions of pounds to the programme of largely preventative measures being co-ordinated by the World Health Organisation.

Some nations, including the US, are resisting the inclusion of specific targets in today's communique, such as the halving of the number of deaths from malaria by 2010. However ministers argue that, by co-ordinating existing measures, and through greater use of insecticides and distribution of mosquito nets, deaths can be reduced dramatically.

The far-reaching programme will embrace the G8, the WHO, Unicef, the Organisation of African Unity and large pharmaceutical companies.

Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, said: "One million people a year die, 90 per cent in Africa, most of them children. Malaria is a disease of the poor - it makes them sick and it makes them poorer and it's spreading.

"We need a vaccine and other drugs and research but if we systematically apply what we know already we can massively reduce the incidence. Bed nets sprayed with insecticides, very cheaply, will save lives."

She said eradication of the disease would require a 30-year-programme but warned that the disease, which was eliminated from Europe only after the Second World War, is spreading and health officials are alarmed at the mosquito's growing resistance to drugs.

She said: "New strains are appearing ... it's pushing its way into South Africa, it's pushing back into parts of the Caribbean it was pushed out of, it's going into America."

Health officials believe malaria could be virtually eradicated just as smallpox and polio have been. Some are concerned that, without action, the disease could return to Europe, aided by climate change.