Since world leaders adopted the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, a broad partnership of governments, United Nations entities, philanthropies and businesses has combined to protect hundreds of millions of people from malaria. Increased international funding, matched by growing political commitment in endemic countries, triggered a massive increase in preventive interventions and expanded access to diagnostic testing and life-saving medicines, averting more than a million deaths.
The MDG target of halting and reversing the incidence of malaria is now in sight, and 50 countries are on track to reduce their malaria burden by at least 75 per cent by 2015. However, major challenges remain. Malaria continues to inflict a major toll on least developed countries – primarily in Africa – and millions of people still lack access to life-saving interventions.
In Africa, malaria kills a child every minute. Weak surveillance systems mean that cases are vastly under-reported; and governments and the World Health Organisation have too little information about where malaria occurs and how trends are changing, although improvements in data collection are under way. Emerging resistance of the malaria parasite to drugs, and mosquitos to insecticides, are further complicating efforts to combat this persistent threat to lives and productivity.
Recently, global funding for malaria control has plateaued. Although half the resources needed to achieve near-zero deaths from malaria by the 2015 MDG deadline have been committed, there is still a near-$3 billion annual shortfall. This is starting to slow the scale-up of key malaria interventions in Africa, particularly the distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets.
To prevent malaria from resurging, and to continue to alleviate suffering, especially in the 10 countries with the highest malaria burden, the international community needs to provide the necessary funding to protect all at-risk groups and support research and innovation to develop new tools. Replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria should be a priority.
The theme for this year’s global World Malaria Day campaign is “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria”. Controlling malaria does more than improve human health. It boosts social well-being and economic development. I urge the global health community, including political leaders in endemic countries, to maintain their commitment to provide universal access to malaria interventions and end needless suffering from this preventable and treatable disease.
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