A global plan to end malaria

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

No one should die from a pre­ventable dis­ease. Yet pre­ventable dis­eases kill two mil­lion chil­dren ev­ery year, many of whom are too poor to af­ford proper treat­ment. The ma­jor­ity of these deaths are either treat­able with ex­ist­ing medicines, or avoid­able in the first place.

Malaria, a life-threat­en­ing dis­ease trans­mit­ted by mos­qui­toes, is one of these ill­nesses. Less than a cen­tury ago, fam­i­lies ev­ery­where – in­clud­ing across North Amer­ica and Europe – lived in fear of a mos­quito bite. Malaria not only took the lives of chil­dren and adults; it per­pet­u­ated poverty and limited global eco­nomic growth, pre­vent­ing mil­lions from reach­ing their full po­ten­tial.

To­day, more than 30 coun­tries have elim­i­nated the malaria par­a­site, and at least ten more are on track to do so by 2020. De­spite this, malaria re­mains a lead­ing cause of death for chil­dren un­der five in SubSa­ha­ran Africa, tak­ing the life of a child ev­ery two min­utes. Malaria is also ex­pen­sive, cost­ing Africa’s econ­omy some $12 bln per year.

De­spite many decades of in­tense re­search and devel­op­ment ef­forts, with more than 20 pos­si­ble vac­cines cur­rently be­ing eval­u­ated, there is still no com­mer­cially avail­able in­oc­u­la­tion against malaria. How­ever, there are a num­ber of pre­ven­tive mea­sures that can con­trib­ute to re­duc­ing the risk of in­fec­tion. These in­clude us­ing in­sec­ti­cide­treated bed nets, spray­ing in­door walls with in­sec­ti­cides, and fo­cus­ing pro­phy­lac­tic mea­sures on the most vul­ner­a­ble groups.

To­day, we have a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to build on what has al­ready been ac­com­plished, by high­light­ing and sup­port­ing ini­tia­tives and re­search ef­forts that could erad­i­cate malaria. For ex­am­ple, re­searchers at the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health’s Malaria Re­search In­sti­tute have dis­cov­ered how re­sis­tance to the malaria par­a­site can spread in a mos­quito pop­u­la­tion. The find­ings could pave the way for the devel­op­ment of self-prop­a­gat­ing malaria-con­trol strate­gies, mit­i­gat­ing the need for con­tin­u­ous ap­pli­ca­tion of in­sec­ti­cides and re­liance on bed nets.

An­other im­por­tant ini­tia­tive that de­serves sup­port is the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s “vec­tor con­trol” guide­lines, which of­fer strate­gies for con­trol­ling the mos­qui­toes, flies, and bugs that trans­mit dis­ease. The WHO’s plan pro­vides a new strat­egy to strengthen vec­tor con­trol world­wide through in­creased ca­pac­ity, im­proved sur­veil­lance, bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion, and in­te­grated ac­tion across sec­tors and dis­eases. Global health ef­forts should sup­port ef­forts by coun­tries where malaria is en­demic to de­velop and im­prove vec­tor-con­trol strate­gies.

We also need to con­sider how chang­ing global en­vi­ron­ments are af­fect­ing the oc­cur­rence of malaria. For ex­am­ple, be­cause de­for­esta­tion cre­ates favourable con­di­tions for mos­qui­tos by pro­duc­ing ditches and puddles, which are more likely to pool less acidic wa­ter that is con­ducive to mos­quito lar­vae devel­op­ment, coun­tries with el­e­vated for­est loss tend to have higher rates of malaria. De­for­esta­tion also leads to re­duced ab­sorp­tion of rain­fall, which in­creases the vol­ume of stand­ing wa­ter.

In the UAE, we be­lieve that elim­i­nat­ing dis­ease is cen­tral to global devel­op­ment. If peo­ple are given the op­por­tu­nity to lead healthy lives, they can get an ed­u­ca­tion, con­trib­ute to the econ­omy, and look af­ter their fam­i­lies, gen­er­at­ing a mul­ti­plier ef­fect that fur­ther boosts pros­per­ity and devel­op­ment. We also be­lieve in adopt­ing a holis­tic ap­proach, one that in­cludes se­cur­ing fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments, pro­mot­ing re­search and in­no­va­tion through in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment, and reg­u­larly con­ven­ing global cham­pi­ons to main­tain mo­men­tum and share ideas.

For dis­ease erad­i­ca­tion, part­ner­ship is essen­tial. That is why Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, has con­trib­uted $30 mln to the Roll Back Malaria part­ner­ship, the pre­em­i­nent global frame­work for ac­tion against malaria.

I am proud to sit on the board of Roll Back Malaria, be­cause I be­lieve that di­ver­sity of lead­er­ship per­spec­tives is vi­tal to find­ing so­lu­tions to com­bat the dis­ease, par­tic­u­larly as we be­gin a bold new chap­ter in the quest to elim­i­nate it. The land­scape of lead­ers sup­port­ing global health is ex­pand­ing, and now rep­re­sents pop­u­la­tions around the world. This is im­por­tant, be­cause part­ner­ships like Roll Back Malaria must work glob­ally to save the great­est pos­si­ble num­ber of lives.

We hope to en­cour­age fur­ther global col­lab­o­ra­tion this week, as Abu Dhabi con­venes more than 200 lead­ers in dis­ease erad­i­ca­tion at a fo­rum called Reach­ing the Last Mile. This meet­ing aims to share in­sights and best prac­tices on how to map, con­trol, or elim­i­nate pre­ventable dis­eases, in­clud­ing in­no­va­tions that could ul­ti­mately bring an end to malaria glob­ally.

In the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, we man­aged to erad­i­cate a dis­ease, small­pox, for the first time in his­tory. Com­plete erad­i­ca­tion, elim­i­na­tion, or con­trol of dis­ease is com­plex, and that is par­tic­u­larly true of malaria. A few years ago, we thought that elim­i­na­tion of malaria was be­yond our reach, but to­gether the world has made tremen­dous progress. Be­tween 2000 and 2015, pub­lic-health in­ter­ven­tions saved the lives of 6.2 mil­lion peo­ple, 5.9 mil­lion of whom were chil­dren un­der the age of five.

By 2020, an es­ti­mated $6.4 bln will be needed each year to fund the global fight to elim­i­nate malaria. This will be a dif­fi­cult feat, but to­gether we can cre­ate a fu­ture with­out the dis­ease – a brighter and more sta­ble fu­ture for mil­lions of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, with more op­por­tu­ni­ties for gen­er­a­tions to come.

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