Devex: Steady funding, strategic planning key to continued malaria progress

The following post was originally published at Devex on Dec. 11, 2015.

This photograph paints an idyllic scene: 6-year-old Ronnie walks hand-in-hand with her mother on a beach in their home country of Papua New Guinea. What the image fails to demonstrate, however, is that it was taken on the heels of a near-tragedy for the family: Ronnie almost died from a preventable disease and, just two days before this photo was taken, was in critical condition, hospitalized with severe malaria.

Thanks to the Global Fund and its health partners, improved access to malaria treatment and prevention has saved the lives of millions of people like Ronnie. It is important to acknowledge such tremendous progress, as outlined by both the World Health Organization 2015 World Malaria Report, released this week, and a report released in September by the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund on achievements in the malaria fight over the last 15 years. But it is also important to recognize that such gains can be easily lost without steady funding and strategic planning.

Since the global community came together to establish the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the world has made great progress. Particularly successful was the achievement of MDG 6, focused on halting and reversing the incidence of malaria and other diseases by the end of 2015.

WHO reports that global malaria incidence rates have declined by 37 percent since 2000, and malaria deaths have fallen around the world by a whopping 60 percent. The global footprint of malaria has also decreased. According to WHO and UNICEF, people are at risk of malaria in 97 countries and territories as of 2015, down from 106 countries in 2000.

But what does this mean, and what does it look like on the ground? How many lives have been affected — or even saved — by this progress?

The WHO estimates that approximately 1.2 billion cases of malaria have been averted entirely. That’s roughly the same number of people who live in all of India. In addition, 6.2 million deaths from malaria have been prevented.

The Global Fund has contributed greatly to this fight against the disease and Global Fund-supported programs have provided 548 million mosquito nets to protect children and families from malaria. For example, a Global Fund-supported program in Indonesia has distributed 1.4 million insecticide-treated nets to pregnant women and children in malaria-endemic regions.

There has been great success in fighting the scourge of this disease, but there is still more work that needs to be done to completely eliminate malaria. While malaria is no longer the leading cause of death for children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa, the disease still accounts for 10 percent of child deaths. That means one child still dies of malaria every two minutes.

Furthermore, the gains we’ve made to date are precarious. If neglected, malaria could resurge within just one infectious season.

To help countries make progress, move forward and achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, which call for ending the epidemics of HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030, we need to support the Global Fund’s lifesaving work. As the Global Fund has provided more than $7.8 billion to the fight against malaria, nearly half of global funding to fight the epidemic, the organization will continue to play a substantial role in supporting the newly-adopted SDGs.

A recent report released by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in conjunction with the United Nations, calls for the international community to do what seemed impossible just two decades ago: eradicate malaria within a generation. If achieved, it is estimated that this action would save 11 million lives over the next 25 years and unlock a staggering $2 trillion in economic benefits.

Experts estimate that $5.1 billion would be necessary each year to eliminate malaria as a serious public health threat. It would require more funding for on-the-ground prevention and treatment services such as indoor residual spraying and insecticide-treated nets to protect against mosquitos, community education programs, provision of inexpensive rapid diagnostic kits and medication. It would also require sustainable health systems that are capable of tracking, monitoring and analyzing cases. Unfortunately, only half that amount of funding was available to fight malaria in 2014.

As we move into a replenishment year for the Global Fund, it is imperative that we encourage donor countries to increase their pledges if we are to win this winnable fight. Every dollar in the 2016 replenishment will count in the Global Fund’s efforts to fight malaria and to create a healthy global society. This is the only way we’ll see progress through to the ultimate end — the eradication of this dreadful disease.

Deb Derrick is the president of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.