Three hundred leading malaria scientists, global health leaders, policymakers, government officials and advocates gathered last week at the Malaria Forum to discuss great strides in malaria control and address challenges that are impacting the long-term goal of eradication.
“We have seen tremendous success in the control of malaria, thanks to an infusion of resources, innovation, and political will,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Worldwide, malaria deaths are down 20 percent since 2000.”
More than one million African children have been saved from malaria since 2000. New tools such as long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets and artemisinin-based combination treatments (ACTs)—along with prevention during pregnancy and indoor residual spraying—have made this recent progress possible.
A surge of financial and political commitments from endemic countries, donor governments, non-governmental organizations, private companies, and individuals sparked a decade of scientific advancement and the development of lifesaving tools that fight malaria. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative and the World Bank’s Malaria Booster Program transformed the funding landscape and contributed significantly to successes in malaria control.
Gates congratulated the forum participants and urged them to maintain momentum or recent gains could be lost. “What matters is our staying power,” she added. “We need to keep on seizing the opportunity to make new progress against malaria every single day.”
Innovation will Pave Way to Eradication
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, challenged the malaria community to be smarter, faster, and more ambitious. “If we think big, bring more partners into the fold, and take smart risks, we will invent entirely new tools—powerful ways of fighting malaria that don’t exist now,” explained Mr. Gates. “This is the kind of innovation that will enable us to plan for the eventual eradication of malaria.”
When Mr. and Mrs. Gates first called on the global community to chart a course for the long-term eradication of malaria at the Malaria Forum four years ago, the world took notice. Gates reaffirmed the foundation’s commitment to eradication, urging public and private partners to increase their investments.
“Eradication is an ambitious goal—and a long-term goal. It is also a goal to which we remain 100 percent committed,” he added. “It will take leadership, innovation, and money to plan for malaria’s eventual eradication.”
Notable Scientific Advancement Reported
The first interim results from phase III trials of the RTS,S vaccine were announced at the forum. Among five- to 17-month-old children, the vaccine prevented clinical malaria in 56 percent of trial participants over a period of one year. It prevented severe malaria in 47 percent.
Gates deemed this discovery a “huge milestone” in the fight against malaria, as RTS,S is the first vaccine against a parasitic disease.
“First, this is proof that it is possible to create a vaccine that is effective against malaria,” he explained. “Second, if further results show that the effectiveness of RTS,S does not wane over time it has the potential to protect millions of children and save thousands of lives.”
Work is already underway to develop the next generation of vaccines that will provide greater and longer lasting protection and will be even more effective in stopping malaria transmission.
Urgent Call to Intensify Efforts
While the second Malaria Forum illuminated the recent progress the world has made in halting malaria, there was an underlying sense of urgency to be smarter and faster, and to save more lives.
The reality in much of Africa remains grim. A child dies of malaria every 45 seconds in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the latest reports from 2009, children under five accounted for 85 percent of the nearly 800,000 malaria deaths. Malaria also bears a heavy burden on Africa’s global economies, costing the continent an estimated $12 billion annually in lost productivity.
“The parasite has been killing children and sapping the strength of whole populations for tens of thousands of years,” added Mr. Gates. “Now, we can chart a course to end it.”