Mediaplanet: As former Minister of Health for Mali, WHO Country Representative in Ethiopia and now Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, what is the current status of global malaria control efforts?
Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré: In recent years, we’ve made tremendous strides against malaria. According to the latest numbers published in the World Health Organization, malaria deaths rates have decreased by approximately 42 percent globally and 49 percent in Africa alone.
Despite unprecedented advances in prevention, diagnostics and treatment, the WHO reports that malaria continues to cause approximately 207 million cases of infection around the world each year, killing an estimated 627,000 people. Almost half of the world’s population remains at risk from malaria, and the preventable and treatable disease still kills a child somewhere in the world every minute.
"Despite unprecedented advances in prevention, diagnostics and treatment, malaria continues to cause approximately 207 million cases of infection around the world each year, killing an estimated 627,000 people."
MP: How have innovations changed the way the world has responded to health challenges like malaria?
FNT: Malaria is a disease of poverty and access, affecting the world’s poorest communities disproportionately. Until recently, effective prevention and treatment tools didn’t even exist, and an estimated 3,000 children were dying from malaria every day without international uproar or media attention. But innovations like long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs), rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) have changed the way we prevent, test and treat malaria, giving us new hope and helping to galvanize support from a wide range of stakeholders to scale-up these interventions and save lives.
These scientific advances have seen the percentage of households owning at least one insecticide-treated net in sub-Saharan Africa – where 90 percent of malaria deaths occur – rise to more than 50 percent since 2000, with 85 percent of owners indicating regular use. Between 2010 and 2012, we’ve seen the proportion of diagnostic malaria tests in the public sector increase to more than 60 percent both globally and in Africa, largely due to the deployment of innovative RDTs at the community level. And since 2005, we’ve seen the number of top-line ACTs on the market increase from 11 million globally to more than 330 million.
Video: Roll Back Malaria
MP: How is malaria a driver of poverty?
FNT: Malaria has tremendous economic impact on already struggling communities around the world, costing governments and societies billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity, accounting for as much as 40 percent of public health expenditure in some high-burden countries. In Africa alone, malaria costs an estimated minimum of U.S. $12 billion in lost productivity each year.
Malaria cases and deaths are not simply numbers; they are lives lost and promise not realized. Malaria keeps parents out of work, teachers out of the classroom and children out of school. When we invest in malaria, we not only invest in health, we invest in future generations of leaders.
MP: How do you see malaria treatment improving in the next ten years?
"Investments in malaria prevention and control have been among the best investments in global health, resulting in a dramatic decrease in malaria deaths and illness."
FNT: Unfortunately, we’re beginning to see parasite resistance to artemisinin, the core compound in the WHO-recommended artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), in certain areas of the Greater Mekong sub-Region: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. If resistance were to spread to – or emerge in – India or sub-Saharan Africa, the public health consequences could be dire, as no alternative antimalarial medicine is available at present with the same level of efficacy and tolerability as ACTs. Luckily, a promising new one-dose malaria treatment is now being developed, which could help contain and alleviate some of the impact of this emerging drug resistance.
MP: Why is it so important to invest in global malaria control efforts?
FNT: Investments in malaria prevention and control have been among the best investments in global health, resulting in a dramatic decrease in malaria deaths and illness. The simple, proven tools we have to prevent and treat malaria account for some of the most cost-effective health interventions of our time, and they have the potential to lift entire generations around the globe out of poverty and foster greater economic development for us all. When we invest in malaria, we know that the return is high and the cost is low.
Health is the building blocks of all development and when we invest in malaria, we invest in communities and accelerate progress in other health and development areas by reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty, and improving maternal and child health. If adequate financial resources are secured, we could scale up our efforts to ensure millions of lives continue to be saved.