World Malaria Day was established to provide education and understanding of malaria and to share information on the implementation of malaria-control strategies. It provides an opportunity for all malaria stakeholders to showcase their successes and highlight the challenges experienced in the fight against malaria.
The concerted effort and investment over the years has led to significant progress towards the elimination of malaria. It is exciting to note that malaria-endemic countries have made incredible gains. Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places. As a result, malaria mortality rates among children in Africa have been reduced by an estimated 58% since 2000. While this is great news, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that sustaining those gains will take extra effort.
With more investment, much more success will be assured, hence the theme for 2015 –“Invest in the future, defeat malaria” calling attention to the need to increase commitments. This is especially important as we enter a new era of global development, with new sustainable development goals, (SDGs) considering the ambitious targets set out in a draft post-2015 strategy that includes eliminating malaria from a further 35 countries by 2030.
Despite the significant progress in fighting malaria, the disease continues to have devastating impact on people’s health and livelihoods around the world. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every minute from malaria, killing almost half a million children under five each year. In 2013 alone, malaria caused an estimated 584, 000 deaths, mostly among African children. The sad reality is that majority of these deaths are actually preventable considering that the disease is preventable and curable.
The situation is especially grim for population groups which are at higher risk of contracting malaria and of suffering more severe forms leading to poorer outcomes. These groups include young children, pregnant women and people with HIV/AIDS.
Malaria in pregnancy is associated with increased poor outcomes including miscarriage and low birth weight, especially during first and second pregnancies, and a higher risk of passing HIV infection to newborns due to infection of the placenta, as well as maternal deaths. Since effective tools to prevent and treat malaria already exist, more funds are needed to urgently make them available to the people who need them most.
Intermittent Preventive Treatment against malaria in pregnancy (IPTp) is a highly cost- effective intervention with the potential to save many maternal and neonatal lives. Yet its coverage is low. It is sad to note that an estimated 15 million of the 35 million pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa did not receive a single dose of preventive treatment (IPTp) in 2013. If the coverage of this intervention is scaled-up in sub-Saharan Africa, many mothers and newborns would be saved.
There is need to invest in diagnostic tests to ensure that treatment is given for confirmed malaria cases as recommended. Emerging drug and insecticide resistance, if established, will result in public health disasters.
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are of special concern; they are characterized by high levels of malaria transmission and widespread insecticide resistance. Stronger malaria surveillance systems are needed to enable a timely and effective malaria response in endemic regions, to prevent outbreaks and resurgences, and to track progress. A vaccine against malaria would go a long way to combat the disease, and work towards this outcome must be accelerated.
Amref Health Africa is implementing programs to contribute to the elimination of malaria in Africa and on this World Malaria Day, it renews its commitment to working hand in hand with governments, development partners and civil society organizations to:
- explore innovative ways of engaging communities to empower them to scale up malaria prevention strategies
- support countries to scale up the implementation of evidence-based, high impact interventions such as IPTp
- hold governments accountable to deliver their promises on combating malaria.
Amref Health Africa realizes that governments are responsible for ensuring the right to health for their citizenry and commits to supporting governments to meet this objective. To that extent, Amref Health Africa urges governments as well as their development partners to:
- ensure universal coverage of quality diagnostics and treatment services to those in need
- invest in routine monitoring of antimalarial drug resistance
- avail funds for the development of new, alternative insecticides for use on bed nets
- support acceleration of development of a malaria vaccine.
Sources: WHA Resolution 60.18; WHO Malaria Fact sheet N°94; Reviewed April 2015; World Malaria Day 2013-2015 web site