SEATTLE, Washington — Malaria is a treatable and preventable disease, yet hundreds of thousands of people continue to die from the parasite disease each year. The World Malaria Report 2019 revealed 228 million cases of malaria in 2018 and 231 million cases in 2017. Increased action is necessary to decrease the number of malaria cases and malaria deaths.
Prioritizing Malaria in the White House
In 2005, the White House launched the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) to scale up evidence-based prevention methods to decrease malaria-related deaths and eventually eliminate the disease. At the launch of the PMI, Malaria No More (MNM) was founded. MNM works to keep malaria high on the political agenda, aid countries in scaling best practices and ensure a steady investment flow.
Michal Fishman, the Director of Global Strategic Communications at MNM, said that to maintain the momentum in addressing the disease and moving toward elimination partnerships need to be built and strengthened.
“Our job is to work with partners to keep the momentum going, continue to build political will and increase ambition to rid the world of malaria,” Fishman told The Borgen Project. “We work in partnership with [the private sector, NGOs and foundations] around advocacy, communications and data. An evidence-based and data-informed approach is efficient in ensuring that a country targets interventions where they’re needed most to decrease incidence and prevent deaths.”
The Global Impact of Malaria
Malaria has an immense economic impact on a country’s GDP, families and individuals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that direct costs to governments for malaria amount to an average of $12 billion per year. This estimate only includes costs from the disease itself, treatment efforts and premature deaths. The economic burden is even larger when considering how it can restrain a country’s potential economic growth.
Today, malaria remains one of the deadliest diseases and affects half of the world. The most at-risk areas include South-East Asia, Western Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.
Africa continues to be hit the hardest by the disease. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the region was host to 93% of all global cases and 94% of all deaths.
In 2018, children under the age of five made up 67% of all global malaria deaths. Other groups who are vulnerable to the disease include infants, people living with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women, as well as non-immune travelers and migrants.
Malaria No More: Getting to Zero
Global efforts over the last two decades have tremendously reduced the number of malaria cases and deaths. As Fishman and The Borgen Project discussed, the elimination of malaria is no longer a high-reaching goal.
Since 2000, malaria deaths have dropped by 60%. The most common method to limit the spread of the disease is to use insecticide-treated mosquito nets, which has helped to prevent more than 6.2 million deaths and 450 million cases in the last fifteen years. Past strategies and tools have aided in decreasing the number of malaria cases and deaths, but more needs to be done to reach zero.
Malaria No More’s recent project called Forecasting Healthy Futures uses micro-weather data to better target and time intervention programs where extreme weather events can lead to the unintentional spread of malaria.
“Another impact of extreme weather can be migration patterns if people need to leave their communities,” Fishman explained. “By migrating, people can possibly transmit malaria to communities that have low incidence rates, which could heavily impact the response to bringing malaria down to zero.”
Malaria No More will be working with PATH, the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi’s Reaching the Last Mile Initiative, the Weather Channel and the Tableau Foundation on this project.
Looking Financially Toward the Future
While it is possible to eliminate malaria worldwide, there is still a long way to go to turn the possibility into reality. Fishman found complacency and a lack of investment to be two of the main barriers in maintaining the momentum of government and communities’ support in eliminating malaria.
“Countries have other priorities,” Fishman stated. “Malaria is one of the oldest diseases and we know we can get rid of it because half of the world has eliminated it. The other half can have the same benefit, but we can’t just accept that the other half will just have to live and be at risk. It impacts us all.”
According to the Global Fund, an estimated funding of $5 billion is crucial to tackling globally agreed upon milestones to eliminate malaria. Unfortunately, global funding for malaria control and elimination efforts have decreased in the last few years. In 2017, funding for global malaria efforts totalled $3.2 billion, in 2018 global investments fell to $2.7 billion.
As of March 2020, the Global Fund gave an estimated $12.9 billion toward malaria control programs. According to the WHO Action and Investment to Defeat Malaria, 10 million lives can be saved if malaria is eliminated by 2030.
As Michal Fishman said, “In order to bring malaria deaths down to zero, we need to maintain and increase political will to ensure urgency in funding a response to the disease.”
We are at a pivotal moment where progress could backslide due to the coronavirus. As the Global Fund argues, a sustained effort in malaria control will not only result in its elimination by 2030 but also an estimated global economic growth of $4 trillion. While funding for COVID-19 efforts is undoubtedly crucial at this time, malaria control and elimination efforts must also not be forgotten.
– Danielle Barnes
Photo: U.S. Air Force