By Duncan Earle, MACEPA Program Director
In 2007, the malaria community first gathered at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to assess progress fighting the disease and to set a new challenge: eradicating malaria. At the time, this raised eyebrows—people wondered if it was possible. Today, the global community has set its sights on making this challenge a reality.
So how is this possible? We’ve made tremendous progress controlling malaria, and most of this progress has happened in the four years since the last Malaria Forum. We’ve seen the widespread scale-up of bednets and indoor spraying of insecticides, national malaria control programs are now leading the charge, and we’ve introduced the use of rapid diagnostic tests to confirm suspected malaria cases and help countries understand exactly how much malaria they have. Because of all of this, we’ve seen malaria illnesses and deaths decrease dramatically, and now one-third of countries affected by malaria on are track to eliminate the disease.
But looking ahead, we don’t just want to control malaria, we want to end it.
Now, we are coming together for a second time in Seattle to renew our commitments to eliminating and ultimately eradicating malaria. Recent experience among national programs across Africa shows us this is possible. We can eliminate malaria in Africa by ending transmission of the disease with tools available today and a focused strategy that evolves as progress advances. New strategies and tools, such as vaccines, will speed and strengthen these efforts.
Convening under the theme “Optimism and Urgency,” local experts, scientists, advocates, and people working in the field will discuss strategy, how we can better use the tools we have, and what new tools need to be developed to end malaria.
During the first panel, I spoke about Zambia, which is a great example of both the progress that can be made and just how fragile that progress can be. Zambia has seen an enormous drop in malaria in many parts of the country, cutting the malaria burden in young children in half in just two years thanks to an ambitious national program and stepped-up efforts to ensure widespread use of proven interventions. But they’ve also seen an uptick in cases in places where funding bottlenecks have led to delays in bednet distributions.
While Zambia’s story is largely a story of optimism, it carries important lessons for the global fight. The progress achieved in the country has helped create a roadmap for the community. The challenge now in Zambia is ensuring the reliable delivery of interventions and effective case management while tracking residual reservoirs of the disease as malaria cases dwindle and transmission occurs in smaller areas. As Zambia works to eliminate the disease, and as transmission is reduced, the engagement of districts and communities in prevention and surveillance will become essential. So too will sustained political will and financing from the global community.
Zambia is an important example to reflect on as we set our sights on the future. Progress is possible, but fragile, without vigilance, sustained commitments, and a sense of urgency. Stopping malaria illnesses and deaths is the only acceptable end to the fight, and we cannot settle for anything less.