World Malaria Day, an annual event that recognises global efforts to control malaria, takes place on 25 April. This year, the World Health Organisation (WHO), along with partner organisations, is promoting the theme ‘Ready to Beat Malaria’, calling for greater investment to get the eradication of malaria back on track after the number of global malaria cases stopped falling for the first time in ten years.
This year, WHO is placing a particular focus on both the progress made in tackling the disease and the urgent action needed for its eradication. This is based on findings from the WHO World Malaria Report 2017, which highlighted the fact that progress in malaria control has stalled in recent years following unprecedented success.
According the report, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2016, a similar number to 2012. This means that the current pace of malaria prevention is insufficient to achieve the 2020 target of a 40% reduction in malaria case incidence and death rates.
There were roughly 212 million malaria cases in 2015 and around 429,000 malaria deaths. There has been a 29% reduction in malaria mortality rates globally since 2010 but Sub-Saharan Africa continues have a disproportionately high share of malaria cases, with 92% of malaria deaths in 2015 occurring in the region. WHO is calling for intensified support for the African region.
To bring this about, a major focus of this year’s campaign is a renewed effort to boost funding for malaria control, which has levelled off since 2010. With an estimated $6.5bn needed annually by 2020 to adequately fund the 2030 malaria target of reducing global malaria incidence and mortality rates by at least 90%, gaps in funding must be addressed urgently.
An increase in investment in the recently developed malaria vaccine, large-scale clinical trials, and new technologies targeting outdoor-biting mosquitoes is also needed to meet this target.
In a statement, WHO said: “Without urgent action, the major gains in the fight against malaria are under threat. On this World Malaria Day, WHO continues to call for greater investment and expanded coverage of proven tools that prevent, diagnose and treat malaria.”
Funding was also central to the Malaria Summit, which was held in London as part of the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting two days before World Malaria Day. During the summit, organised by the UK Government and leaders of Rwanda and Swaziland, it was announced that collective commitments of $4.1bn had been secured from governments, the private sector, philanthropists and international organisations.
This included pledges from GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis to contribute $250m and $100m respectively to malaria research. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also pledged to invest $1bn in the fight against malaria. Speaking at the summit, Bill Gates urged leaders to commit more money to fight the disease, which experts fear may be experiencing resurgence.
“In 2016, for the first time in years, the number of malaria cases in the world went up. This is not a blip. It is not noise. It is signal. What it signals is this: we have reached the point of diminishing returns from our current strategy,” Gates said.
At the summit, heads of Commonwealth states, The Prince of Wales and Bill Gates called for the leaders of the Commonwealth to commit to halving malaria cases and deaths within the next five years.
German pharmaceutical company Bayer also pledged its ongoing support to develop vector control solutions at the summit. The company will continue to invest in addressing resistance and other challenges in disease transmission.
Bayer president of environmental science Dr Jacqueline Applegate said: “Investing into a future pipeline of vector control tools in a collaborative manner is essential if we are to increase our chances in overcoming challenges such as resistance and ensure sustainable malaria prevention for the millions at risk.
“At Bayer, we are committed to using science and innovation to improve people’s lives and are very proud to be a signee of this declaration.”
This year’s World Malaria Day also coincides with the 70th anniversary of WHO. To mark both occasions, The Global Malaria Programme is publishing of a series of interviews with leaders and experts on the global response to malaria.