This year’s slogan for World Malaria Day is End Malaria for Good! It sounds like a vivid call to action to address one of the deadliest diseases of our time. World Malaria Day gives global awareness to the fight against this killer disease, but let’s not forget that it is unfortunately a daily struggle for many exposed countries. Today is a key moment to reflect on all the efforts that were brought together in the tremendous fight against malaria and the result of such mobilization.
A lot of progress had been made to dramatically reduce the malaria mortality rate. The rate fell 60% between 2000 and 2015 and during the same period, the number of mortality cases had also fallen by 37% globally! It is also estimated that there has been a cumulative 1.2 billion fewer malaria cases and 6.2 million fewer malaria deaths.
The amazing determination driving the actors of the fight against malaria contributed in those encouraging numbers. However sustaining them will be the real challenge to take this “End Malaria for Good” slogan to a tangible successful outcome. To achieve this goal various and new creative approaches with anti-malaria technology as well as subsequent financial resources will be needed.
The public health impact is a real one, and the most exposed population are children and pregnant women. When a woman is pregnant, her immunity is reduced, making her more vulnerable to malaria infection with dangerous consequences such as abortion, still birth, premature delivery and low birth weight. At least 24 million pregnancies are threatened each year in Africa and malaria causes up to 15% of maternal anaemia and about 35% of preventable low birth weight. We also know that the cost of malaria – 40% of public health spending in the most endemic countries – goes far beyond public health impact. This is why it causes a real brake on economic and social development, especially in Africa.
Since 2000 malaria has cost sub-Saharan Africa US$ 300 million each year for case management alone, it is also estimated that it costs endemic countries up to 1.3% GDP. The disease accounts for considerable loss days of productivity among the adult population, absenteeism from schools and workplaces and increased household expenditure on health. To the extent that achieving 2030 targets for malaria control will add an estimated US$ 1.2 trillion to endemic countries’ economies.
Many countries in Africa are trying to do their level best to eradicate the disease. For instance in Rwanda, they decided to involve the defence forces after the country registered about two million malaria cases last year, up from just 514,000 in 2012. The malaria resurgence was blamed on the fact that not only mosquitoes have become resistant to some insecticides but the plasmodium has become resistant to some drugs as well.
The massive expansion of tools to prevent and treat malaria, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, insecticide spraying and anti-malaria medicines have helped to lower the burden of malaria but have not been able to eradicate the disease in many countries. We will need new tools to contribute in that global effort to eradicate the disease. We have to encourage innovation among researchers so new strategies and different approaches could successfully complement existing methods and address current challenges. Most of all, we will need to sustain the effort and mobilize human and financial resources so research could make real progress, more cases can be prevented and less region will be affected. In that pace, we can be hopeful that we might end malaria for good!