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Drop-off seen in fight against malaria

LONDON — The fight against malaria is slowing down amid a dramatic drop in efforts to reverse the epidemic, even as health officials insist they will try to meet their target of virtually eliminating deaths from the parasitic illness by the end of 2015.

Malaria causes symptoms including fever, chills, and vomiting and can kill if not treated early. It mainly strikes children under 5, mostly in Africa. In 2010, about 145 million bed nets were given out across Africa to protect people against the mosquitoes that spread the disease. Last year, that fell to about 66 million. The number of homes in Africa sprayed with pesticides has also stalled.

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While the malaria death rate has fallen by a quarter since 2000, officials say further improvements are in jeopardy.

‘‘We must act with urgency and determination to keep this tremendous progress from slipping out of our grasp,’’ Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, wrote in a report released Monday. WHO blamed falling donations and said the $2.3 billion invested in malaria programs in 2011 was less than half of what was needed.

The agency estimated there were about 219 million malaria cases and 660,000 deaths in 2010. But solid data were obtained from countries representing just 15 percent of cases worldwide; the remaining cases and deaths were largely based on estimates and modeling. There was no solid information on countries with the biggest outbreaks, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, which account for about 40 percent of global malaria deaths.

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