Dr Abdourahmane Diallo
CEO, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria
Ending malaria is the pathway to strengthening health systems, supercharging economies and beating pandemics like COVID-19.
Since the turn of the century, the global malaria community has made incredible strides in the fight against malaria. Two decades of investment have saved 7.6 million lives and prevented 1.5 billion malaria cases, significantly reducing burdens on health systems worldwide.
We’ve also seen that, with determination, investment and innovation, malaria elimination is possible. Since 2000, over 20 countries across all continents, including Algeria, Argentina and Sri Lanka, have ended malaria and are unlocking the associated societal and economic benefits.
Encouragingly, more countries than ever before are now on the cusp of elimination. This week, the World Health Organization announced a group of 25 countries within reach of zero malaria by 2025.
Impact of COVID-19 on malaria
However, the fight to end this preventable and treatable disease is not over. In 2019, 409,000 people died from malaria, and the COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase the malaria death toll for 2020. We’re facing an annual US$ 2.6 billion shortfall for life-saving malaria interventions.
The COVID-19 pandemic also laid bare the enormous economic costs of health crises—a lesson malaria has long taught us. For instance, Nigeria—which carries the world’s highest burden of malaria—loses an estimated US$ 1.1 billion annually due to malaria-related absenteeism, loss of productivity and treatment costs.
Conversely, healthier populations create healthier economies. Since 2010, the Asia Pacific region has made tremendous progress against malaria, halving deaths and reducing cases by a staggering 89%. Malaria elimination by 2030 is projected to save over 400,000 lives and avert 123 million new infections, translating to almost US$ 90 billion in economic benefits across the region.
This World Malaria Day, I call on all countries and communities to reaffirm their commitment to end malaria—a viable and worthwhile goal.
Long term commitment is needed
As we’ve seen in countries that have recently eliminated malaria, progress requires long-term commitment and investment in disease surveillance and health workers, which are proving crucial in the countries’ dual response to COVID-19 and malaria.
Thailand’s one million village health volunteers stepped in to manage COVID-19, while continuing to drive effective malaria control activities. Countries such as Malaysia and El Salvador successfully kept malaria at bay despite COVID-19, the latter becoming the first Central American nation to achieve malaria-free certification this year.
Ultimately, ending malaria will lead to more resilient communities and health systems that are critical for confronting and averting new disease outbreaks. This World Malaria Day, I call on all countries and communities to reaffirm their commitment to end malaria—a viable and worthwhile goal. We owe it to millions of people to deliver our vision of a malaria-free world.