By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - Malaria deaths have dropped dramatically since 2000 and cases are falling steadily as more people are properly diagnosed and treated and more get mosquito nets, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
Yet progress against the mosquito-borne infection remains fragile and West African countries suffering an unprecedented epidemic of Ebola are particularly at risk of seeing a resurgence of malaria, the United Nations health agency said.
In its annual report on the disease, the WHO said the malaria death rate fell by 47 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2013 and by 54 percent in Africa, where about 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur.
In an analysis of malaria's impact across sub-Saharan Africa, it also found that despite a 43 percent increase in population, fewer people in the region are infected every year.
Some 44 percent of people at risk from malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa used mosquito nets in 2013, compared to just 2 percent in 2004. And an expected 214 million nets will be delivered there by the end of 2014.
"The massive scale-up of mosquito control measures, diagnostic testing and quality-assured treatment has helped to dramatically reduce the global disease burden," said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO's global malaria program.
"With sustained political commitment, increased financing, and with the help of innovative new tools, we should be able to accelerate efforts even further.”
In West Africa, however, the deadly Ebola outbreak has had a "devastating impact" on malaria treatment and the roll-out of malaria control programs, the report found.
In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia -- all severely hit by the Ebola epidemic -- many inpatient clinics are closed and attendance at outpatient facilities is a fraction of rates seen before the outbreak, it said.
With a major malaria threat in these countries, which together saw some 6.6 million cases and 20,000 malaria deaths in 2013, the WHO called for temporary control measures, including giving malaria drugs to all patients with fever and carrying out mass treatment in areas hard hit by both Ebola and malaria.
"International donor financing is being stepped up to meet the further recommendation that bed nets be distributed to all (Ebola) affected areas," the report said.
Worldwide, malaria killed some 584,000 people in 2013, including some 453,000 children under five years old. Although funding to fight malaria has increased threefold since 2005, it is still only around half the $5.1 billion needed.
(Editing by Gareth Jones and Catherine Evans)