Yesterday, the World Health Organization released the 2014 World Malaria Report and announced that the number of children who die from malaria each year has fallen more than 50% since 2000.
That’s an incredible milestone in the fight against a disease that remains a leading cause of death for children under five in Africa and Asia. It shows what global partners can achieve when we set big goals and focus on eliminating health disparities that continue to deny millions of children in developing countries a healthy start in life.
It’s fitting that the report was released in London because the generosity of the British people has played a major role in turning the tide on malaria. More than 4 million lives have been saved in the past two decades through the work of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) in partnership with endemic-country governments.
Critical to this success has been a dramatic scale up in access to simple, low-cost, life-saving interventions:
- The number of African households with access to bed nets has increased from just three percent to nearly 50 percent,
- The number of people protected by indoor residual spraying against mosquitoes has more than doubled, from 55 million to 123 million, and
- The number of people with access to rapid diagnostic testing and effective artemisinin-based combination therapy has grown more than tenfold.
The rapid scale up of integrated malaria control strategies is also starting to pave the way for malaria elimination in several world regions. On November 24, at the East Asian Summit meeting in Myanmar, Asia Pacific heads of state committed to eliminate malaria from their region by 2030. The leaders of eight southern African countries have made a similar commitment through the E8 Initiative, and leaders in Central America and the Caribbean are working with the Global Fund to make North America the third continent to achieve malaria elimination (following Europe and Australia). With focus, determination, and partnership, we could eliminate malaria from 40 more countries in the next 15 years.
But we can’t rely on piecemeal efforts to shrink the malaria map using existing tools and strategies. If we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life, we are going to need new tools and new strategies so that we can end the deadly threat of malaria everywhere and forever.
As history demonstrates, malaria isn’t amenable to 50% solutions. When we stop worrying about it, it comes back with a vengeance. Moreover, malaria is a rapidly evolving disease that will inevitably render useless every tool we can throw at it – if we let it. That’s why we need to stay invested in R&D to secure next-generation treatments, diagnostics, vaccines, and mosquito control methods that can accelerate the effort to eradicate malaria by middle of this century.
The achievements of the past decade give me every confidence that we can beat malaria. We’re halfway there. Now we need to focus on getting the job done.