With COVID-19 spreading across the globe, straining national health systems and challenging families, communities and countries, there has never been a more important time to uphold our commitment to end malaria, says Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO, RBM Partnership to End Malaria and former Minister of Health, Guinea.
Since the early 2000s, we have made tremendous gains against malaria, setting us on the path towards a malaria-free world later this century.
Current investments in malaria are saving almost 600,000 lives and preventing nearly 100 million cases a year. However, we still have a long way to go, with malaria still among the leading causes of child mortality in Africa.
And, as long as malaria exists, it threatens the poorest and most vulnerable, and has the potential to resurge in times of public health crises – like the one facing us now.
In addition to bearing the heaviest burden of malaria, the world’s most vulnerable populations are also at risk of being hit the hardest by an outbreak, as they’re often last in line to receive appropriate testing and treatment for existing and emerging diseases.
Ebola increased malaria-related deaths by 7,000 among under-fives in West Africa
Consider the following: the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa led to 7,000 additional malaria-associated deaths among children under five in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Moreover, frontline health workers were disproportionately affected by Ebola, just as they are by COVID-19. Ensuring safe delivery of life-saving malaria services must therefore be our top priority.
Robust health systems will be our primary line of defence, and with outbreaks like COVID-19, it is crucial that we ensure that our health systems are strengthened, not compromised.
As some countries have recognised, investment in malaria elimination is an investment in broader health systems, long-term productivity and economic growth.
Improved nets, tests, medicines and political support have achieved progress-to-date
Progress-to-date has only been possible thanks to increased political commitment and investment, and future progress now relies on sustaining these key drivers of success.
Another key driver of progress has been the development of new, transformative tools, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets and rapid diagnostic tests.
Last year, three countries introduced the world’s first malaria vaccine, which provides partial protection against malaria in young children. New malaria medicines have also been introduced to prevent and treat the disease.
The need for action
Today, we find ourselves before an ever urgent need to fast-track the availability of effective and innovative tools that can be used to save lives and stay on top of emerging resistance of both the malaria-carrying mosquitoes and the parasite itself.
Finally, as we have seen from the dramatic spread of COVID-19 in recent months, diseases don’t respect borders. Today, 49 countries are within reach of malaria elimination.
We must work together to ensure that overburdened health systems do not result in increased malaria transmission in countries that are approaching zero malaria cases.
Efforts to fight malaria have been a hallmark of global cooperation of the early 21st century. More than ever, we must unite to protect our hard-won gains against malaria and effectively address existing and emerging threats to global public health.
Dr Abdourahmane Diallo