An Achievable Goal: Defeating Malaria

Efforts to continue funding the malaria response have been fueled this year by the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared both Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka malaria-free. Just last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced its $29 million grant to UC San Francisco’s Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI). This grant will help to accelerate malaria elimination efforts, and in fact, MEI projects that nearly 30 countries will eliminate malaria in the next five years.

This conversation around malaria elimination is particularly timely. Earlier this month, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) hosted an event at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., to celebrate countries in the Americas taking strides and making great progress against malaria. Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer from the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) emphasized that the “crazy, audacious vision” of malaria elimination didn’t seem likely a decade ago.

So how did the fight against malaria make so much progress in such a relatively short amount of time? Looking at Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka’s efforts, the answer lies in effective partnerships and robust funding.

Kyrgyzstan eliminated malaria in 1961, but started to see imported cases of the disease in the 1980s. After a financial crisis struck in the 1990s, Kyrgyzstan cut funding to national health programs. Those conditions helped contribute to an increase in disease transmission. Kyrgyzstan, working together with the Global Fund, WHO, USAID and other partners, was able to drastically decrease the number of malaria cases. Expanding vector controls and community-based prevention efforts, Kyrgyzstan was able to put an end to indigenous cases of malaria in 2011.

Also in the mid-20th century, Sri Lanka was on the verge of defeating malaria. The disease had a resurgence, however, once resources were directed away from vector control and treatment, combined with mosquitos developing insecticide resistance. Through a renewed national commitment to ending the epidemic, coupled with the creation of the Global Fund, Sri Lanka was successfully able to eliminate malaria across the island, announced earlier this year. Global teamwork, including support from the Global Fund, provided the funding and resources needed to scale up successful programs and ultimately loosen malaria’s grip on the world.

These stories can both inspire and galvanize the global community to end the malaria epidemic for good. Supporting public-private partnerships like the Global Fund can spur additional funding commitments from other donor governments and encourage more domestic financing, enabling governments to gain greater control of their own disease response in-country. We can end malaria and other epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis – all we need is a shared global effort to make these diseases history. The precedent has been set; now we need to scale it to success.