Guest post by: Elizabeth Ivanovich, Senior Officer of Global Health for the United Nations Foundation
When I was a child in the 1980s, my parents worried when I had a fever, but they always knew I would recover from it. Due to the successful efforts of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to eliminate malaria in the U.S. after WWII, and prevent its reintroduction by monitoring and treating cases brought in by travelers, they never had to worry that this disease could claim my life.
Children in other parts of the world faced a completely different reality from my own in the 1980s. Although malaria caused a huge portion of deaths in many developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the burden was and still is the heaviest, relatively few resources were put towards preventing and treating the disease. Feverish children were often treated for malaria to no avail. Caregivers and wage earners were frequently incapacitated by the disease, contributing to a cycle of poverty.
Developments in malaria prevention and treatment have transformed over the past two decades. Today, millions more families have access to long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLIN), which protect them from being bitten by mosquitoes and contracting malaria while they sleep. Highly effective anti-malarial drugs – to replace those which are no longer effective – were developed and made available to the world’s most vulnerable populations. Now, parents feel assured that if they seek treatment promptly, their children will recover from malaria. Rapid diagnostic tests to detect malaria have been delivered to even the most remote communities, allowing health workers to differentiate between malaria and fevers with other causes, thus leading to better treatment practices.
Thanks to these crucial interventions, the World Health Organization estimates that the malaria mortality rate has fallen by 48% among children under age five and 42% in all age groups between 2000 and 2012. This translates into an estimated 3.3 million lives saved, 93% of which were in Africa. To put this into perspective, this means that on average, more than 750 lives were saved each day by global efforts to control malaria.
This is a huge success, but the work is far from complete. We must sustain these gains and accelerate efforts to control and eliminate malaria. There are still an estimated 207 million cases and 627,000 malaria deaths each year. A child still dies of malaria every 60 seconds. This is unacceptable.
Over the past decade, the capacity of the most-affected countries to fight against malaria has been bolstered by increased investments from national governments, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the US President’s Malaria Initiative, among others.
To ensure that we continue to develop new and effective products to combat malaria, partnerships such as the IVCC, the Medicines for Malaria Venture, and the Malaria Vaccine Initiative have been established. In the past year, there have been promising discoveries that in a several years could translate into new insecticides, treatments, and vaccines.
In the U.S., communities big and small have joined the fight. Churches, schools, sports teams, and individuals have raised awareness, advocated for the U.S. to continue its strong support for malaria control, and found unique ways to raise money to donate LLINs to families in need through campaigns like the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign.
This World Malaria Day, we should all commit ourselves to ending the burden of this disease. The greatest threats to ending malaria in our generation are disinterest and inaction. Yet I am confident that we will do what it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat the disease for good.
Elizabeth Ivanovich is a Senior Officer of Global Health for the United Nations Foundation, supporting global health campaigns like Nothing But Nets. For more information on how to get involved, visit www.NothingButNets.net.