The 25th April is World Malaria Day – a chance to reflect on progress so far and to campaign for an even bigger push to eradicate this deadly disease.
Now is a critical time, with less than one year to reach the 2010 targets laid down by the international malaria community of delivering effective and affordable protection and treatment to all people at risk of malaria. The world is also six months away from decisions on how much money will be given to the work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – an organisation which is having a significant and increasing impact.
Malaria is one of the world’s major diseases killing nearly one million people every year, the vast majority of who are children under the age of five. Half of the world’s population is at risk from malaria and it is estimated that the disease cost Africa $12bn in lost GDP last year. Given that malaria specifically affects the under fives, the disease also has a wider impact on Millennium Development Goals on child mortality, as well as on maternal health.
Tackling malaria has two key components –prevention of transmission and treatment. Prevention can be as simple as providing insecticide-treated bed nets to a family at risk from the disease. Second, prompt and effective treatment for those who do get infected with the disease saves lives. Tragically, many malaria victims die simply because they can’t access life-saving treatments quickly enough. While investment in preventing and treating malaria has increased, there is still a funding shortfall for malaria programmes.
Funding has increased dramatically in recent years. The world spent $1.7bn on fighting malaria in 2010 – a ten-fold increase since 2004. And the increase in funding has had a tangible impact. As funding has increased and national capacity to treat malaria has improved, nearly one million lives have been saved since 2000 and most of these since 2006, when the scale-up of malaria programmes in Africa began. But still not enough is being done. To deliver the sharp declines in malaria infection and deaths being called for by the Roll Back Malaria campaign, it is estimated that in 2010 alone around $6bn is required.
As with other major infectious diseases, there are big opportunities to secure expanded funding for malaria programmes this year. Perhaps the most important will be the replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in October. The Global Fund is responsible for two thirds of international financing to fight malaria, and the work of the programmes financed through the Fund is having real impacts. By the end of November 2009, the Global Fund had distributed 104 million bed nets to families most at risk from the disease, and 108 million malaria drug treatments. The Global Fund says that the results from their investment have exceeded expectations, and that data shows that deaths from malaria have been cut by two thirds.
In October, major donors to the Global Fund, including governments in the rich world, will determine how much money the organisation receives to distribute to programmes. It is crucial that development advocates and other global health actors call for governments to dedicate as much money as possible to the replenishment of the Fund. On World Malaria Day we should all speak up about the need to eradicate malaria and support the work of the Global Fund to fight this and other deadly diseases.