Where are we in the long and bruising fight against malaria? That is the question many of us will be asking today as we mark World Malaria Day.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) which instituted the day in 2007 as a way of keeping track of the scourge, says the world is today at a decisive juncture.
“Whether the malaria map will keep shrinking, as it has in the past decade, or be reclaimed by the malaria parasites, depends, to a great extent, on the resources that will be invested in control efforts over the next years,” says the organisation.
It is about: "Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria", a theme aimed at ensuring that the world maintains the tempo in the fight against the killer disease to its logical conclusion.
For the fight is directly linked to the global effort for development as WHO points out: “Sustaining malaria control efforts is an investment in development.
Continued investment in malaria control now will propel malaria-endemic countries toward near-zero deaths by 2015 and achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially those relating to improving child survival and maternal health, eradicating extreme poverty and expanding access to education.”
Not so many of us see the direct link between the current lack of development and the disease. Yet it is there amply for all to see.
You only need to calculate the time malaria afflicted people stay out of work, in hospital and the resources needed to nurse them back to health, not to mention those spent on children, school days missed, etc.
It is thus not only about saving the resources that currently go into taking care of those afflicted by the disease. It is about the potential for development that a malaria-free, healthy, productive society generates. It is about a drastic cut in aid and no doubt debt for the currently poor countries.
We must not only jealously guard the gains made in the last few years, but build further on them. According to the WHO, in Africa, malaria deaths have been cut by one third within the last decade while outside of Africa, 35 out of the 53 countries, affected by the disease have reduced cases by 50% in the same time period.
In countries where access to malaria control interventions has improved most significantly, overall child mortality rates have fallen by approximately 20%.
These are encouraging results. However they can very easily be reversed, especially for the poor countries, if there is a shift in priorities, a likely scenario as donor countries grapple with debt-related issues.
It is our expectation that despite the current economic climate, donors will see the logic of ensuring aid keeps flowing to national malaria control programmes to ensure widespread population access to life-saving and cost-effective interventions.
As per WHO call, every suspected malaria case must be tested, every confirmed case treated with a quality-assured anti-malarial medicine, and that the disease is tracked through timely and accurate surveillance systems to guide policy and operational decisions.
Only in this way can we keep the scourge on retreat and expect to reap the development benefits that come with its defeat.