(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Six million at risk of malaria epidemic

Some six million Ethiopians, most of them children, are threatened by a potential malaria epidemic, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) cautioned.

In its latest update on Ethiopia, the agency said it needed close to US $22 million to prevent tens of thousands of additional deaths.

"UNICEF urgently needs $21.9 million to fight Ethiopia's looming malaria epidemic, fund a nationwide polio immunization drive and reach 963,855 people in critical need of water," it said. "While polio is continuing to spread, a UNICEF-supported nationwide vaccination campaign planned for October and November is badly underfunded."

Prevention initiatives by members of the Roll Back Malaria partnership in response to a sharp rise in malaria cases from June to August helped control the spread of the disease. A recent, widespread increase in malaria parasites and other worrying signs, however, have renewed fears of a nationwide epidemic.

According to a UN News Service report, UNICEF said that high rainfall and epidemiological trends were adding to concerns that an epidemic could occur during the "long" transmission season from October to December.

Supplies of the new anti-malaria drug Artemether-Lumefantrine - brand name Coartem - already had been consumed in large quantities to control malaria earlier in the year, the agency added, noting that the looming epidemic could exhaust stocks of Coartem and quinine, another anti-malaria drug.

UNICEF said that to ensure adequate stocks for the remainder of the year and maintain overall emergency capacity, Ethiopia needed another two million doses of Coartem, at a cost of $4 million, as well as $125,000 for emergency quinine for the treatment of severe cases, including infants and pregnant women.

A study published in the East African Medical Journal in April 2005 estimated that some six million malaria cases had occurred in Ethiopia during the last full-blown epidemic between April and December 2003, with up to 114,000 fatalities. UNICEF cautioned that similar figures could be expected if there was another epidemic in 2005.

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