The US is leading the way in the fight against malaria

The US is leading the way in the fight against malaria
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Americans may seem divided as ever politically, but today we celebrate one of our greatest bipartisan successes: leading the global fight against malaria, a preventable disease that kills a child every 2 minutes.

When World Malaria Day, April 25, was designated in 2007, the disease was killing more than 750,000 people annually. Last year, that number had decreased by more than 40 percent.

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This stunning progress against what many believe to be among the deadliest diseases in human history has been led by ongoing U.S. investments in two programs: the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

 

These investments make the U.S. the largest funder of global anti-malaria efforts and they’re critical for sustaining global progress against the disease. PMI and the Global Fund buy and deliver insecticide treated bed nets to prevent malaria, combination drug treatments to treat it and training and technical assistance to help malaria-affected countries optimize disease prevention and control.

These American commitments, sustained and grown over three administrations and multiple Congresses, have contributed to saving the lives of 7 million people. However, they have an even broader impact because they incentivize governments and businesses to add their own resources to the fight. Following our lead, major donors such as the United Kingdom and France have contributed billions of dollars to the Global Fund.

Increasingly, malaria-affected countries, including Kenya and Tanzania are investing more in the fight. Earlier this week, at a global Malaria Summit, leaders from donor and 15 malaria-affected countries, business, philanthropy and international organizations announced significant commitments to fight the disease.

When making the case for these investments, we always start by citing declining mortality data to describe progress against malaria. But, important and impressive as the data is, it fails to capture the full impact of these investments.

Last year, 445,000 people died from malaria, but more than 200 million contracted the disease after being bitten by a mosquito. Malaria is debilitating. Even when it doesn’t kill, it prevents kids from attending school and parents from working, devastating millions of families and stunting economic growth in dozens of low-income countries.

Lifting the malaria burden would unleash productivity and unlock prosperity for individuals and nations alike. According to the Copenhagen Consensus, every dollar spent to combat malaria generates $36 of economic return.

The fight against malaria also builds health infrastructure in low-income countries. Increased laboratory capacity, real-time disease surveillance and efficient supply chains are critical for containing outbreaks and stopping pandemics in an increasingly interconnected world. And the more countries where malaria is under control or even eliminated, the safer American troops are when they’re stationed overseas.

These are just a few of the reasons that the United States must stay at the forefront of the global malaria fight. We cannot let down our guard or malaria will fight back.

One of the most challenging aspects of defeating malaria is that both the parasite and the mosquito that carries it evolve; as a result, they develop resistance to the insecticides and anti-malarial drugs. That resistance is part of the reason why the number of cases of malaria went up last year, for the first time in more than a decade.

The good news is that we and public-private partnerships are investing in more research to develop new tools and use next-generation data collection and analysis techniques to deliver solutions to the right places at the right times. This can help stretch our foreign aid dollars as far as possible and is critical to accelerate progress and help prevent resurgence. 

Additionally, Congress and the administration continue to provide vital leadership in the malaria fight. In the most recent omnibus spending bill, Congress appropriated essential funding for PMI and Global Fund, while days later Dr. Ken Staley was appointed U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator to lead PMI and U.S. efforts to fight malaria. USAID Administrator Mark Green also announced last September that PMI expanded its effective work to five additional countries, extending PMI’s total reach to approximately 570 million people living in 24 countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The American commitment to the fight against malaria, supported by Democrats and Republicans, is a symbol of the United States’ leadership role in the world. It is a testament to what America can accomplish when it sets its sights on important goals. And it is the reason why we can envision the day that no one dies from a mosquito bite.

Josh Blumenfeld is the managing director of global policy and advocacy at Malaria No More. Margaret Reilly McDonnell is the executive director of the UN Foundation Nothing But Nets campaign.