25 April 2018 | Statements

The success of a Unitaid malaria-prevention pilot is informing and inspiring similar work

Image: Julio Dengucho/Unitaid

On this year’s World Malaria Day, Unitaid is pleased to see its work to stop early-childhood malaria in Africa’s Sahel region being carried on by governments and other organizations, offering the potential to one day protect all the region’s smallest children from the deadly disease.

From 2014 to 2017, Unitaid funded the ACCESS-SMC project, the world´s very first large-scale pilot to evaluate the effectiveness of seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC)—a type of preventive drug treatment.

The results were very encouraging: More than six million children across the seven countries in the project area received prevention, fulfilling more than 25 percent of the region’s needs and averting an estimated 60,000 deaths. In 2016, 290,000 children died of malaria, according to the World Health Organization.

Following the end of the ACCESS-SMC project, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expanded this important work to ensure that young children remained protected.  With a 2.9 million EUR grant, the Global Fund partnership expanded the number of beneficiaries and districts to reach 1.2 million children in 2017 in 14 districts in Niger.

“This simple and cost-effective method is saving thousands of lives, particularly among children under five in some of the most severely affected parts of Africa,” Global Fund Executive Director Peter Sands said. “Getting rid of malaria requires partnership, funding and innovation.”

Other seasonal malaria chemoprevention programmes are being funded by the World Bank, PMI, Good Ventures and UNICEF.

In 2014, 57 health districts had implemented seasonal malaria chemotherapy, to some extent, in seven countries. The scale of SMC remained small until 2015, when Unitaid’s $US68 million ACCESS-SMC project was started, significantly expanding the scale in a number eligible countries. As of 2017, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo had begun SMC programs.

In 2016, 15 million children in 12 Sahel countries were protected through seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) programmes. However, about 13 million children who could have benefited from this intervention were not covered, mainly due to a lack of funding.

“The experience of the ACCESS-SMC project has shown us that high coverage of a large number of children is possible, and can have a significant impact on the malaria burden,” Unitaid Executive Director Lelio Marmora said. “SMC is inexpensive, safe and effective, and with areas in the Sahel having the highest incidence of malaria in the world, it is now an urgent priority to close the gap and reach all eligible children.”

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