With the globally agreed target of reversing the incidence rate of malaria by 2015 now in sight, top United Nations officials today urged the international community to stay committed to protecting people from this preventable disease and to scale up key interventions such as the provision of insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
There are now less than 1,000 days until 31 December 2015, the deadline agreed to by world leaders to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include several health targets.
According to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria, Ray Chambers, 4.4 million preventable child deaths must be averted by that date to reach the target. Malaria accounts for nearly one quarter of these deaths.
Malaria mortality has already declined from over one million annually to half of that number in under a decade, thanks to the delivery of over 400 million Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs), expansion of indoor-spraying and hundreds of millions of courses of treatment and diagnostic testing.
“Strong leadership within malaria endemic countries combined with increased financial resources has decisively turned the tide against malaria, and demonstrated what is possible for other health threats,” Mr. Chambers said in a news release to mark World Malaria Day, observed annually on 25 April.
“We have the plans and the collective will to finish the job, but the clock is ticking while innocent children’s lives hang in the balance. There is no room for complacency when we are on the brink of such a decisive humanitarian breakthrough.”
Following a slow-down in net distribution in 2012, partly as a result of the global economic crisis, 37 million nets were delivered to sub-Saharan Africa in the first quarter of 2013, making it the highest quarter since 2011, the news release noted.
In addition to replacing expiring nets, increased access to treatment and testing will be needed to achieve the goal, especially in the private sector, where so many seek care. While a portion of the funding is in place, between now and the end of 2015, $3.8 billion in new funding will be required to fund and deliver all necessary commodities in sub-Saharan Africa.
The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day is “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message, noted that while the target of halting and reversing the incidence of malaria is now in sight, major challenges remain, including weak surveillance systems and a funding shortfall.
“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,” he stated. “In Africa, malaria kills a child every minute.”
The current funding shortfall is starting to slow the scale-up of key malaria interventions in Africa, particularly the distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets.
“Controlling malaria does more than improve human health,” Mr. Ban pointed out. “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 the needless suffering from this preventable and treatable disease.”
Earlier this month, the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced a target of raising $15 billion for the 2014-2016 period. “When combined with other sources of funding, that will enable global partners to have a transformative effect on AIDS, TB and malaria,” it noted in a news release.
“We can defeat malaria, if we work together,” said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “We have a chance to control it and sharply reduce the number of children who die from it each year. If we don’t act decisively, we will be counting the cost for generations.”