World Malaria Day: Our Work Is Not Over

May 11, 2011, 8:17 a.m.

April 26, 2011

"Baseball and Malaria keep coming back."

So said famed baseball player and manager Gene Mauch. Our objective on World Malaria Day -- today, April 25 -- is to show that the second part of Mauch's statement no longer has the certainty of baseball.

2010 was the biggest year in malaria control history, capping off a decade of progress.

Increased malaria awareness and funding enabled the distribution of tens of millions of mosquito nets to families and individuals at risk around the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone -- the region that accounts for 90 percent of annual malaria deaths -- enough nets have been delivered to cover 76 percent of the population living in malaria endemic areas.

I've been so proud that my own organization, PSI, has been an active participant and leader in this effort. This year, PSI will deliver its 120 millionth mosquito net, and we are set to distribute an additional nine million nets in a campaign planned for the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year. When you add in the efforts of other PSI partners, such as UNICEF and Nothing But Nets, this figure grows even larger.

The results speak for themselves. Following a combination of net distribution campaigns and associated treatment programs, 11 countries in Africa showed a reduction of more than 50 percent in either confirmed malaria cases or malaria admissions and deaths during the past decade. At the same time, 32 of the 56 malaria-endemic countries outside of Africa showed a similar 50 percent or more decrease in malaria cases.

But our work is not over.

If the global community wants to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of ending malaria deaths by 2015, maintaining momentum is vital.

The lifespan of insecticide-treated mosquito nets is currently only three years, meaning that a failure to replace nets could result in a resurgence of malaria cases and deaths, especially in young children. This scenario is compounded by the fact that millions of children still lack access to effective malaria treatment, such as artemesinin-based therapies.

Despite these threats, funding for malaria -- which quadrupled during the past two decades -- has now stagnated. Without continued financial and political support for malaria control and treatment, the global community risks walking away from the tremendous life-saving successes we have achieved in only ten years to protect communities from this deadly -- and entirely preventable -- disease.

When I first moved to Africa in 1985, malaria was endemic and my own prophylactic efforts were imperfect. Like so many before me, I assumed malaria was part of Africa's identity. It need not be this way. With falling deaths from malaria, better malaria treatments and the political commitment both among African leaders and funders from around the world, we can see the path to stripping the weight of malaria from Africa's future.

I can think of no more noble goal.

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