This article was originally published on Politics home.
A group of experts met last week to launch a report from the World Health Organisation and to talk about how best to stamp out the disease.
2016 has been a “tremendous year” in terms of the progress made on ending malaria, Priti Patel told the global launch of the WHO World Malaria Report 2016.
She joined a group of panellists at the launch which was hosted by the APPG on Malaria and NTDs. The event was organised by a number of different organisations, including Malaria No More UK and Malaria Consortium. A panel of experts, chaired by Jeremy Lefroy MP, spent an evening discussing how best to preserve and strengthen efforts to fight this disease.
One thing all the experts agreed on was that the malaria reduction over the last 20 years has been one of the greatest achievements in global public health.
The 2016 report revealed how much progress had been made, showing a 37% reduction of new cases, a 60% drop in malaria deaths and a 65% drop in deaths among children under five. Even more impressively, ten countries that had malaria in 2000 are now malaria free and nearly 60 countries have reduced their malaria cases by 75% or more.
The International Development Secretary explained the world had come so far thanks to communities working together and she highlighted the work the United Kingdom has done, saying the country has been at the forefront of the battle.
But, although the progress has been “unprecedented” and worthy of celebration, the experts were keen to emphasise there is still a huge amount of work to do.
International Development Secretary Priti Patel commended the “phenomenal” progress the global community has made on eradicating the disease, but cautioned: “We can never stand still, there is no room for complacency.”
“The size of the challenge is enormous.”
Last year, over 400,000 people died of malaria and there were 212 million new cases.
In the report, WHO references its Global Technical Strategy for malaria. The goal is to reduce malaria deaths by 90%, eliminating malaria in at least 35 countries and preventing a resurgence of the disease in all countries that are malaria free. To achieve these goals, global financing for malaria will need to triple from joint levels reaching $8.7bn annually by 2030.
The strategy will only become achievable with proper funding, emphasized the panelists, and a continuous global effort.
Ms Patel, and others, explained one of the top priorities in the fight against malaria was finding a way to address the urgent challenge of dealing with drug and insecticide resistance, which is threatening the progress made thus far.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, warned that there is an “epidemic coming” of drug resistant malaria in parts of Africa, and if the world fails to address drug resistance urgently, “we will really regret it”.
He also remarked that at a time when countries are looking ever more inward, it was up to the international community to emphasise the importance of global health.
Baroness Lindsay Northover, former Liberal Democrat Dfid minister, who was responsible for enshrining the 0.7% pledge into law, echoed the sentiment saying: “In order to achieve that we all need to work together, countries must not turn inwards. We must not now lose the scientific and political leadership on malaria.”
Ironically, the fact that so much progress has been made in fighting malaria has meant, that it is difficult to keep on the global agenda, said the Malaria Consortium Chief Executive Charles Nelson.
Priti Patel announced to the audience the UK Government will give a £50m to fund the “crucial” work of developing treatments aimed at women and under-fives and an additional £25m for continued innovation.
The Secretary also called for further global effort, saying “the world must commit to fighting malaria.”
Dr Pedro Alonso of the World Health Organisation joined Ms Patel in calling for global investment, remarking it has flat-lined over the past few years.
Mr Nelson expressed his encouragement at the funding pledge, and the Government’s support for fighting the disease, saying:
“The UK Government’s reaffirmation of the their commitment to ongoing support for established interventions, and the enhanced investment in new vector control tools and the development of new treatments strongly encouraging.
“There needs to be that ongoing commitment as progress is made, and the economics of interventions change on the path to elimination. We strongly believe this is a disease that can be beaten but it will take real sustained work and funding both internationally and domestically.’
Ms Patel wrapped up her speech by pledging to carry on the leadership on this global issue: “It’s our opportunity to keep the momentum going because that’s how we work towards a malaria free world.”