Striving for ‘near zero’ malaria deaths

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, at the opening of the “Champions against Malaria” exhibit celebrating World Malaria Day, at UN Headquarters. Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

UNITED NATIONS – In advance of World Malaria Day today, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, hosted a working lunch on Monday to discuss the status of international efforts to reach “near-zero” malaria-related deaths.

Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, Thomas Teuscher, moderated a conversation among representatives from The Global Fund, The Gates Foundation, UNICEF, and the US Global Malaria Coordinator. They reported on the tremendous progress made over the past decade – child mortality has decreased from 1 million per year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000, to 500,000 today, according to Chamber’s estimates. More and longer-lasting mosquito nets, more effective medications, and new diagnostic methods are among the tools that helped achieve these results.

Cause for celebration is tempered though, by the grim reality that the improved numbers still represent an average of one death per minute.

Jeffery Sachs, who did not sit on the panel but shared his expertise on the subject, warned that malaria rebounds quickly, so unless we reach “near-zero” deaths, all progress to-date can be suddenly reversed. Sachs analogized the situation to war, saying “we are in the midst of a ferocious battle” against a “wily enemy,” adding that “we can’t progress further without working with local communities.”

Specifically, Sachs emphasized the need for governments to realize the importance of increasing funding for anti-malaria initiatives led by local communities. Referring to the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, Chambers noted, “we have the political will,” but funding remains a crucial obstacle.

To that end, The Global Fund General Manager, Gabriel Jaramillo, pledged to step up efforts to raise the shortfall of $3.2 billion needed to achieve near-zero deaths. Boasting that The Global Fund could publish a list of individual lives saved by its anti-malaria funding, he observed that no other institution sees such a direct correlation between their investments and lives saved. Consequently, he spoke about the possibility of leveraging those funds to raise more money from national governments and local initiatives.

Malaria is a disease transmitted to humans through bites by mosquitoes carrying the parasite. Halting and reversing the incidence of malaria by 2015 is one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Spearheaded by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, World Malaria Day is observed annually to raise awareness about the dangers of the disease and attract funding for its eradication. This year’s theme “Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria” aims to ensure the momentum that led to progress over the last decade is maintained or accelerated.

Posted on the MediaGlobal blog April 25, 2012

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