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Why we must step up fight against malaria urgently

Mosquito on a black background.

Tremendous progress has been made in the fight against malaria. Up to one million people sleep under bed nets annually. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine says children who sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets have a 43 per cent lower risk of death than those who do not.

Under the US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), some 267 million fever cases with malaria were detected in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in 2019, resulting in 190 million people being treated with anti-malarial drugs and helping cut number of child deaths in half since 2000.

Research shows more than 7,000 Plasmodium falciparum isolates have been sequenced since 2002. A new drug combination treating a type of malaria in children has received Australian regulatory approval.

About 40 per cent of fevers are still misdiagnosed, posing a serious risk of outbreaks being unnoticed. The most vulnerable are children, whose immunity is still developing, and pregnant women, who are inherently immunosuppressed.

Around 80 per cent of all malaria deaths in SSA were among children under five. And maternal women had a two-fold risk of infection. The latest UN Climate Report predicts rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events could worsen malaria etiology, heightening hospital admissions and deaths. The WHO in partnership with the RBM Partnership to End Malaria unveiled a country-driven approach — “High burden to high impact” — led by those with the highest burden of the disease, majorly in Africa and Asia. 

There are also regional, cross-border initiatives, such as the pan-African campaigns like “Zero Malaria Starts with Me,” which encourages Africans at all levels to take greater ownership of malaria prevention, treatment and mobilise additional resources.

Now is the time to translate these words into action and make new financial commitments to scale. The Global Fund has saved some 44 million lives since its founding in 2002. It aims to raise at least $14 billion for Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria towards achieving the 2023 goal. That still leaves a $3.4 billion gap for malaria, which could be filled by contribution from domestic sources. But many heavily burdened countries, including Kenya, are unable to replace even 10 per cent of that, stymying prevention measures such as sanitation, waste management as well as scientific eradication of the vector. 

The rapidly changing epidemiological landscape of malaria necessitates a continuous rethinking of our fiscal capacities for domestic funding. This will also encourage use of cutting-edge new climatic data as well as artificial intelligence.

The writer is a Global Impact Fellow at Moving Worlds Institute. [email protected]