• World Malaria Day

    25 April 2013

    Begun in 2007, World Malaria Day is an opportunity to reflect on the fight against this killer disease. Because while many countries have made significant progress, the fact is that malaria still kills more than 650,000 people every year, most of them children under five.

    Malaria was once endemic in 178 countries around the world, including such climates as Italy and the southern United States. The discovery of the insecticidal properties of DDT and systematic elimination campaigns reduced that number to 99 countries – now only 50 percent of the world's population lives in malaria-endemic areas, down from 70 percent.

    But in that 50 percent, one child dies every minute from malaria.

    A mosquito bite can kill. That simple fact destroys lives, tears asunder communities, and costs the African continent alone more than US$ 12 billion in lost productivity each year. That simple fact, however, has also spurred innovation, generated tremendous amounts of financing, and led to the development of many successful programs on the ground.

    New and highly effective medications – artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs – have been widely introduced. Insecticides have been developed which can be used to impregnate nets which then not only protect the sleeper but also kill the mosquitoes they come in contact with.

    But perhaps the most important innovation comes in the form of a simple blood test. These rapid diagnostic tests, which are inexpensive, easy to use, and very accurate, allow health care providers in even the remotest locations to quickly determine whether a high fever is in fact malaria. A misdiagnosis can lead to the administration of the wrong medicine which in turn can provoke drug resistance – a looming threat, and one which is already a major concern in several countries in South East Asia.

    Financing for the fight against malaria has increased more than tenfold – from US$ 100 million in 2000 to US$ 1.84 billion in 2012. Since 2002, the Global Fund has approved grants to 97 countries for a total of US$ 6.5 billion.

    In the last ten years, much progress has been made, thanks to work of countries, the Global Fund, and partners. Where once only 3 percent of households in sub-Saharan Africa owned an insecticide-treated net to prevent malaria, by 2012 that number had risen to 53 percent, and Global Fund-supported programs have distributed 310 million nets in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world.

    While there is progress – globally, mortality rates linked to malaria have dropped 26 percent since 2000 and several countries are moving to the elimination phase – the situation remains alarming and there is no room for complacency. It has already been seen in certain countries that when malaria control programs weaken, the disease resurges rapidly. Resistance to both insecticides and artemisinin is increasing. And for the moment there are no new treatments ready to come on line.

    A net, a pin prick blood test, and a three-day course of pills – that's all that it takes to prevent and/or treat malaria. To save a life. The world cannot afford not to sustain and even increase the resources devoted to the fight against the pandemic, to defeat this killer once and for all.

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