Washington: The fight against malaria has saved 3.3 million lives worldwide since 2000 but the mosquito-borne disease still killed 627,000 people last year, mainly children in Africa, the World Health Organization said today.
A shortage of funding and basic remedies such as bed nets mean that malaria is still a major threat, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, according to the WHO's Malaria Report 2013.
"The fact that so many people are infected and dying from mosquito bites is one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
A surge in global funding over the past decade has led to great strides against malaria, but even levels as high as USD 2.5 billion in 2012 are still only half what is needed to make sure everyone at risk of the disease has access to interventions, the WHO report said.
"This remarkable progress is no cause for complacency: absolute numbers of malaria cases and deaths are not going down as fast as they could," Chan said.
In 2012, there were an estimated 207 million cases of malaria, causing some 627,000 deaths, down from the WHO estimate of 660,000 deaths in 2011.
Malaria is caused by a parasite and symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and India are the hardest-hit countries.
An estimated 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria worldwide, with 80 percent of cases occurring in Africa.
Tangible progress has been seen in over half of the 103 countries with ongoing malaria transmission, with decreases in the incidence rate since 2000, said the report.
Death rates worldwide fell by 45 percent between 2000 and 2012 in all age groups, and by 51 percent in children under five.
"That is pretty astonishing, for a disease that was neglected and abandoned," said Robert Newman, a pediatrician who heads the WHO's Global Malaria Program.