Since 2001 malaria deaths have fallen by 4.3 million. This is due in part because of a concerted scale-up of malaria prevention and control efforts, especially across sub-Saharan Africa. Increased funding has made this scale-up and global malaria prevention partnerships possible, and yet the funding falls short of the estimated $5.1 billion annually needed to eradicate malaria worldwide.
The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) was signed by George W. Bush in 2005. Upon its official launch in 2006, the primary goal of the Initiative was to reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent across 15 hard-hit countries in sub-Saharan Africa where over 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur. Since then, major milestones have been reached. Malaria mortality decreased by 54 percent in the World Health Organization Africa region and also by 58 percent among children under the age of five. This is significant because malaria remains one of the three largest killers of children globally. Malaria prevention funding also rose from $30 million in 2006 to $669 million by 2015. Insecticide treated bednets also rose from 29 percent to 55 percent.
While the malaria endemic areas have experienced progress, there are daunting challenges ahead. One of the biggest problems of malaria prevention and eradication is resistance to artemisinin in Southeast Asia. In fact, researchers are constantly worried that artemisinin could also become resistant in sub-Saharan Africa which would wipe out the current malaria progress and kill untold amount of people in the region, especially children under five years of age.
Last December a new study was published verifying the cause of artemisinin resistance in Southeast Asia. Researchers found that mutations produce a relatively weak resistance.
“This allows them to temporarily survive treatment, but it will not be enough for ACTs to fail across Africa, particularly as the partner drugs continue to be highly effective,” Dr. David Fidock, PhD, professor of microbiology & immunology and of medical sciences (in medicine) at Columbia University Medical Center, says. “But it may be a foundation for parasites to evolve stronger degrees of resistance to these therapies, so we have to watch for increasing resistance very carefully.”
Now, at the top of 2015, PMI, along with U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has devised a new six-year malaria prevention and eradication strategy moving forward towards 2020. Building upon its previous progress, the new strategy seeks to reduce malaria by 80 percent of 2000 levels, reduce malaria morbidity by 40 percent across PMI-supported countries and also to help 5 PMI-supported countries reach pre-elimination status.
“We recommit to bringing the tools and effective solutions we already possess to people in need, where they live, in rural communities; and continuing to invest in research and development for new and improved tools to combat this disease, from vaccines to new drugs to more sensitive diagnostics and surveillance systems, we will get much closer to a world without malaria,” said Rear Admiral (RET) Tim Ziemer, U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator, in a statement.
The new strategy will continue to draw on lessons learned over the past decade and support the countries where malaria has the greatest impact on the lives of children under the age of five and pregnant women in both sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Photos: Paolo Patruno – http://www.paolopatrunophoto.org