Friends President Deb Derrick at NC State: The History of Malaria

In February, Friends of the Global Fight President Deb Derrick had the opportunity to talk about “Mosquitoes and Malaria Elimination” at North Carolina State University as part of their Great Animal Seminars.

In the second of a two-part series (the first is available here), we share a few excerpts of her one-hour presentation, focusing on the history of the global malaria epidemic, and the progress that has been made globally.

We have made incredible progress in the fight against malaria. Over the last 15 years, we have saved 6.2 million lives from the disease, decreased the malaria mortality rate by 60 percent, and achieved the Millennium Development Goals’ malaria target. Much of this success is the direct result of American leadership and support, and so the story of progress against malaria is also a story of American success.

However, there is still significant work to be done. Approximately 3.2 billion people remain at risk of contracting malaria – in 2015, there were 214 million new cases of malaria and 438,000 deaths from the disease. As a result, mosquitoes remain the deadliest animal, killing about 73,000 times the number of people who were killed by sharks in 2015 alone!

While many people think of malaria as solely a tropical disease, a brief look at the disease’s history shows that this could not be farther from the truth. Russia, the United Kingdom, and even the United States have all experienced outbreaks in the last 200 years. Malaria has been an important issue to U.S. presidents past and present. Eight former presidents were reported to have suffered from malaria, including Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. In the late 1800s, the prevalence of malaria surrounding Washington was so high that there was a short-lived political movement to erect a screen around the city.

Efforts to combat malaria globally have been driven by engagement with U.S. politicians. U.S. efforts to build the Panama Canal under President Teddy Roosevelt resulted in the first major effort to control malaria in the Americas. More recently, President George W. Bush created the President’s Malaria Initiative in 2005 to scale up prevention and treatment measures, an effort that has continued to grow under President Barack Obama.

Politicians have had major partners in the fight against malaria, and perhaps none have been more important than Bill and Melinda Gates. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has worked to overcome market failures that prevented the development and production of new drugs, and has also encouraged governments to increase their investments in the fight against malaria. Today, the Gates Foundation continues to support these efforts, and is also working to develop new technologies that will provide new and more efficient tools in this battle.

We are at a moment in time where this is a major push from governments, the private sector, civil society, and other partners to bring an end to epidemics caused by diseases, including malaria. It will take a significant commitment, both in financial and human resources, but if we are able to sustain a robust response, we can hope to see the day when no child dies from malaria.