Sustain Gains. Invest in Malaria. Save Three Million Children’s Lives in the Next 1000 Days
By Ambassador Donald Koran,
Today, around half the world’s population is at risk from malaria – a preventable and treatable disease that claims the life of a child every minute. Just ten years ago it was estimated that globally, malaria killed nearly a million people each year, with most of these deaths occurring in Africa in children under the age of five.
The disease places a heavy burden on families and national health systems. And because most malaria transmission occurs in rural areas, the greatest burden of the disease usually falls on families with the lowest incomes and whose access to health care is most limited. And while malaria remains a serious global health issue, communities throughout Africa are particularly vulnerable as over 90 per cent of all malaria deaths annually occur on the continent.
This does not have to be the case. Just by scaling up ongoing efforts to prevent malaria, through means such as universal coverage of mosquito nets, it is estimated that we will save the lives of three million African children by 2015. Since malaria not only affects health, but also educational achievement, worker productivity, and economic development, renewed efforts to fight the disease will make a significant difference over the long term and reduce consequences such as the estimated $12 billion in lost productivity in Africa due to the disease each year.
Despite these pressing realities, progress against malaria is one of development’s most impressive stories. As we observe World Malaria Day today, it’s encouraging to note that significant advancements have been made in delivering malaria prevention tools and providing treatment to those diagnosed. Due to global efforts over the past ten years, reported malaria cases have been cut in half in over 40 countries, and estimated malaria deaths have dropped by nearly 330,000 – with an estimated 485 children saved each day.
In Rwanda, political commitment and leadership have resulted in a dramatic reduction in malaria cases and deaths over the past decade. Malaria is no longer the number one cause of sickness and death as it was in 2007, and deaths in children under five have dropped by 50 percent over the past decade. These gains are a result of Rwanda’s pledge to achieve zero malaria deaths annually by 2017 – and the U.S. government, together with global partners, is committed to supporting the Ministry of Health to achieve this ambitious goal.
Rwanda’s gains, while encouraging, are fragile. It is vital that efforts are sustained and expanded through a combination of increased national and international investment and research on the ground, dedicated diagnosis efforts by community health workers, and consistent bed net access and use at the household-level.
Removing the threat of malaria is a key part of the U.S. government’s effort – through the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) – to end preventable child deaths. President Barack Obama has stated his commitment to fighting malaria saying, “It is time to redouble our efforts to rid the world of a disease that does not have to take lives.” If we take this call seriously, not only will we save lives, but we will help advance progress towards other key development goals including increasing maternal and child survival, improving the health of people living with HIV, reducing school absenteeism and fighting poverty.
Together, we have the ability to save thousands of lives and sustain development successes throughout Rwanda. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.
World Malaria Day 2013 also marks the release of PMI’s seventh annual malaria report. This report outlines U.S. government contributions to a dramatic scale-up of malaria prevention and treatment measures worldwide. For full report, visit: www.pmi.gov.
The writer is the US Ambassador to Rwanda.