Kenya has cut malaria deaths among children under five by 44 percent on 2002 levels thanks largely to the increased use of insecticide treated nets (INTs), the government said Thursday.
The health ministry said the distribution of 13.4 million INTs over the past five years among children and pregnant women had helped curtail infections, a key success against a disease threatening 40 percent of the world's population.
"Childhood deaths have been reduced by 44 percent in high-risk districts, in-patient malaria cases and deaths are falling (and) there are reduced cases at the community level," it said in a statement.
"For every 1,000 treated nets used, seven children who might have died of malaria are saved."
Malaria kills 34,000 children under the age of five each year in Kenya, and threatens the lives of more than 25 million of its population of 34 million people, the ministry said.
Children sleeping under ITNs in malaria risk areas are 44 percent less likely to die than those who are not, according to a survey carried out in four districts representing varied transmission patterns.
The government has distributed 12 million doses of artemisinin-based therapy (ACT), the latest surefire anti-malaria drug cocktail to replace the mono-therapies that had developed resistance.
In addition, some 824,600 houses in 16 epidemic-prone districts underwent indoor spraying this year.
Health Minister Charity Ngilu said the government would boost distribution of free treated nets -- a policy backed by the World Health Organisation -- to keep away mosquitoes at night when they are active.
"The impact we have seen and the lessons we have learnt through massively distributing INTs, rather than selectively marketing and selling them, will not only benefit Kenya's children but all Africa's children," she said.
The WHO launched a global programme in 1955 to eradicate the disease that has frustrated attempts to create a vaccine.
Using dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a powerful insecticide, and the drug chroloquine, it managed to eradicated the disease in the West by the 1960s.
But the programme never got off the ground in the humid and low-lying tropics in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease persisted.
By 1969, the programme collapsed as financing withered in the face of rising poverty, political unheavals and surging opposition to the use of DDT.
Malaria affects more than a billion people worldwide and kills a million -- mainly under age five -- every year, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa.