A new study appearing in the Lancet has said that the incidence of malaria in Gambia has plunged thanks to an array of low-cost strategies, thus offering the tempting vision of eliminating this disease in parts of Africa.
At four key monitoring sites in the small West African state, the number of malarial cases fell by between 50 percent and 82 percent between 2003 and 2007, its authors found.
The tally of deaths from malaria, recorded at two hospitals where there had been a total of 29 fatalities out of 232 admissions in 2003, fell by nine-tenths and 100 percent in 2007. A fall of 100 percent means that no deaths attributed to malaria occurred that year.
"A large proportion of the malaria burden has been alleviated in Africa," the study concludes.
The authors also found a substantial shift in the age of Gambian children being admitted for care - from an average of 3.9 years in 2003 to 5.6 years in 2007.
This is important because young children and infants bear the brunt of malaria mortality.
According to figures released on September 18 by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO), around 247 million cases of malaria occurred in 2006, causing nearly a million deaths, mostly of children aged under five.
Gambia's success is due to a combination of several factors that have especially benefited pregnant women and children, says the paper.
These include distributing insecticide-treated bed nets; programmes to spray homes; and the use of the more powerful drugs to replace treatments to which the malaria parasite has become resistant.
"Increased investment in malaria interventions in Africa can have a major effect on reducing morbidity and mortality from the disease," said one of the authors, David Conway, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
"We need to consider the possibility of future elimination of malaria from some areas in Africa but we also emphasize the importance of continuous surveillance, and there is no room for complacency with this disease."