U.S. expands its anti-malaria effort as progress takes hold around world

As we observed World Malaria Day on Sunday, it was heartening to note another great success story in development assistance is emerging in Africa, with global donors, national governments and local partners making major strides against malaria.  The U.S. government has taken extraordinary steps to curb the spread of this preventable and curable disease.

For years malaria has been decimating whole populations unchecked, affecting health, educational achievement, worker productivity, and economic development over the long term. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Across the continent, malaria control programs are scaling up efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat infections with highly effective new drugs.  Emerging data show significant reductions in malarial illnesses and deaths. But as we expand and consolidate these gains, it is vitally important to ensure our efforts maintain momentum and continue to adapt to emerging challenges. 

In Senegal, a 30 percent reduction in deaths in children under the age of five was recorded in the 2008 National Household Survey compared with the comprehensive 2005 survey.  Malaria control programs appear to have been the primary factor behind the decrease.  During the same period, household ownership of one or more insecticide-treated mosquito nets rose from 36 percent to 60 percent. Similar declines in malaria cases and child deaths have been achieved in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia. 

During the past three years I have served as Coordinator of the President’s Malaria Initiative. The initiative, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development – better known by many as USAID, is implemented jointly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009 alone, it reached more than 50 million people with highly effective malaria prevention or treatment measures.

I also oversee malaria programs in four non-focus countries in Africa, and, outside of Africa, two regional malaria activities to contain the emergence of multi-drug resistance. The Amazon Malaria Initiative covers all eight countries making up the Amazon Basin of South America, and the Mekong Malaria Program covers all five countries in the Mekong Delta Region in Southeast Asia.

People ask why we have been successful. I am privileged to work with the best technical staff and public health experts in the world in implementing U.S. global malaria programs. And we could do none of it without partnerships with host country governments, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Bank Booster Program for Malaria Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.N. Envoy for Malaria, which has mobilized thousands of partners with the goal of reaching the universal coverage of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed-nets by the end of this year. 

The 2008 passage of the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act (Lantos-Hyde Act), which re-authorized funding for our work, was a landmark achievement for global health. I cannot overstate the importance of bi-partisan support from Congress. They deserve our thanks for making global health a priority for the world. In response to this legislation, named for two late committee chairmen who did so much to contribute to this fight, we have just finished the whole of government strategy to combat malaria and released it to coincide with World Malaria Day.

By 2014, our goal is to halve malaria illnesses and deaths in 70 percent of at-risk populations, by accelerating and intensifying malaria control efforts in the high burden countries of sub-Saharan Africa.  The release of the U.S. strategy also outlines contributions to stop the spread of multi-drug resistance in Southeast Asia and the Americas; increase emphasis on strategic integration of malaria prevention and treatment activities with programs for maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, neglected tropical diseases, and tuberculosis, through multilateral collaboration to achieve internationally-accepted goals; and intensify efforts to strengthen health systems.

 The U.S. government’s commitment to fight malaria is a key component of our nation’s foreign assistance strategy and President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI) – a global commitment to invest in healthy and productive lives and maximize the sustainable health impact the United States achieves for every dollar invested, with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children. The GHI is a commitment to fundamentally improve the way we do business.

During the past 50 years the U.S government has been a major player in coordinated global efforts to beat back major killers like smallpox, polio and measles. With sufficient and sustained international commitment, we can take out malaria next.

Ziemer is the U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator. He grew up in Asia, attended the missionary boarding school in Dalat, graduated from Wheaton College, served as a Naval Aviator in a career with the Navy, and was Executive Director of World Relief prior to being asked to lead the President’s Malaria Initiative.