We Can Defeat Malaria

Today is World Malaria Day, a moment to celebrate the great progress we’ve helped achieve globally fighting this disease, and an opportunity to renew our commitment to seeing this fight through to the end. Through the highly successful U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), our contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,  public-private partnerships within the United States and abroad, malaria-endemic countries’ governments have worked with donors, businesses, and  communities to increase access to malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment – with lifesaving results. 

The World Health Organization’s recent World Malaria Report reveals that between 2000-2012, deaths from malaria decreased by 45 percent worldwide.  Deaths among children under 5 were reduced by half and 3.3 million lives have been saved. Nearly 70 percent of these lives saved were in the 10 countries with the highest malaria burden, and among children under five years of age – demonstrating the impact we can have when we lead with evidence-based policies, and focus our work where the disease is worst and among the groups most affected by the disease. 

Today, PMI is releasing its Eighth Annual Report to Congress, which documents its progress and impact to date. In just the last year, PMI programs (led by USAID in partnership with the CDC) protected more than 21 million residents by spraying houses with insecticides, procured over 40 million long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets, more than 51 million malaria rapid diagnostic tests, and over 48 million courses of first-line malaria treatment drugs, and trained over 61,000 health care workers on how to treat malaria cases.  And over 3000 Peace Corps volunteers are partnering with PMI in Africa distribute insecticide-treated bed nets and educate communities about how best to prevent the disease. 

In all of the 15 original PMI focus countries (Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagas­car, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia), declines in all-cause mortality rates among children un­der five have been observed, ranging from 16 percent in Malawi to 50 percent in Rwanda.

But the reality is that we can’t stop there. There is much more work to be done.  In 2012, there were still 207 million cases of malaria and over 600,000 deaths – 77 percent were children under five.  Malaria remains one of the main threats to maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa. If we lose our focus, malaria will come back with a vengeance – as we’ve seen happen before.

What more can we do to maintain the progress already made, and get closer to defeating malaria?

First, we need to accelerate access to the inexpensive and effective tools for preventing, diagnosing, and treating malaria, even in challenging environments. By investing through PMI and the Global Fund, the U.S. Government has been instrumental in scaling up access to those tools, and in encouraging other donors and malaria-endemic countries to match our contributions. 

Second, we should celebrate and encourage regional leadership such as the recently formed Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA), which is drawing lessons from the successful African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) and mobilizing political will to defeat malaria. The fight against dangerous drug resistant forms of malaria is critical in the parts of the Greater Mekong region and PMI and the Global Fund are working and investing together to develop regional solutions.

Third, we must continue investing in research and development for new and improved tools to combat this disease, from vaccines to new drugs to more sensitive diagnostics and surveillance systems. Diagnostics and surveillance are becoming increasingly important as we get closer to eliminating malaria. At this new stage in the malaria fight, we need to know what we are fighting in order to use our effective tools in the most targeted way – and that means improving diagnostic testing to avoid misuse of anti-malaria medications (and increasing drug resistance in the malaria parasite) as well as improving surveillance and response. A strong health system supported by reliable data is essential to map where cases are coming from and which strategies will have the greatest impact.

We have much progress to celebrate on World Malaria Day.  Let’s keep the throttle open and accelerate at full speed. Now more than ever, a world without malaria is in reach.

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