Malaria kills more than 1,500 African children per day

Despite progress made with insecticide-treated bed nets, malaria continues to kill 660,000 people annually, most of whom are children in Africa, UNICEF said on Thursday.

In a statement issued for World Malaria Day, UNICEF said that there was much more work to do to battle the deadly disease.

"It is unacceptable that every day more than 1,500 children still die from this preventable and curable disease," Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF's director of programs, said. "We must distribute insecticide-treated nets to all who need them, and provide timely testing for children and appropriate medicine when they are infected."

In 2004, there were only 5.6 million insecticide-treated bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa, but the number grew to 145 million by 2010 thanks to improved financing, bulk buying and extended manufacturing capacity into Africa. UNICEF estimates that approximately 1.1 million lives have been saved from malaria since 2000.

With its partners, UNICEF is requesting that African governments freely distribute the bed nets to achieve universal coverage of one net for every two people. If universal coverage is achieved, UNICEF estimates child mortality can be reduced by up to 20 percent.

"We have made considerable progress in this fight, but cannot take our eyes off the goal of reducing malaria cases and deaths to zero," Alipui said. "We must make sure that countries have the funding they need for malaria control and use it to protect their children and expectant mothers."

UNICEF estimates that there is a 40-fold return for each dollar spent controlling malaria in Africa.