Expanding programs and investments to achieve a malaria-free world

Evidence for success was the theme at last week’s event, “Malaria Control: A Critical Investment for Saving Lives in Africa,” hosted at the Center for Global Development. The event launched the special supplement to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (AJTMH) on documenting and evaluating the impact of malaria control initiatives. Noting the hard-won progress in the fight against malaria, the discussion also celebrated the recent expansion of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

During the UN General Assembly in New York, PMI announced that it will expand malaria programs to four new countries (Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Sierra Leone), as well as expand an existing program in Burkina Faso. This latest development followed on the heels of recent heartening news regarding steady U.S. funding for epidemic programs. When health programs such as PMI and the Global Fund work together and demonstrate their achievements, they prove that they can deliver significant returns on investment.

But the challenge of keeping up momentum in the fight against malaria and other deadly diseases was a topic woven throughout the discussion. Panelists from PMI and the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene emphasized how malaria can act as a canary in the coal mine for public health. The presence of malaria in a community can point to a larger health problem, such as a community’s lack of access to trained health workers or preventative measures.

Fortunately, partnerships are a strong element of U.S. leadership in the fight against malaria. U.S. government partnerships between bilateral programs such as PMI and organizations like the Global Fund help make investments go further and create a bigger, more sustainable impact. The world is seeing the result now in Zambia.

A representative from Zambia’s National Malaria Elimination Center described how Zambia is a leader in terms of malaria elimination. After becoming a PMI partner country in 2007, Zambia now has the ambitious goal of eliminating malaria by 2021. In addition, through Global Fund-supported programs, Zambia has distributed more than 17 million insecticide-treated nets to help prevent malaria. By growing their own domestic investments, Zambia is on the path to malaria elimination, something that didn’t seem feasible just 15 years ago.

Finally, panelists warned against malaria becoming a victim of its own success. While the disease isn’t the leading infectious killer, it needs to remain top of mind, particularly for policymakers. Keeping an eye on malaria is especially crucial as drug-resistant malaria, which resists known treatments, is popping up across the Greater Mekong region in Southeast Asia. It is critical to eliminate this very dangerous type of malaria before it can spread to regions like sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of lives lost would be catastrophic. Through the Regional Artemisinin-resistance Initiative (RAI), the Global Fund is working to achieve elimination of malaria in five key countries in the Greater Mekong region by 2025.

Learn more about the Global Fund’s efforts around the RAI here, download the special supplement from AJTMH here, and watch video from the panel discussions below.