This article was originally published on Politics Home.
Ahead of World Malaria Day 2015, Malaria Consortium urges the next government to remain committed to defeating this deadly disease.
Each year, World Malaria Day serves as an opportunity to both reflect on how far we have come in the fight against malaria, and look ahead to the challenges that we still face. 2015 provides further cause for reflection, falling as it does two weeks before a UK General Election and in the midst of final negotiations that will establish the successor to the Millennium Development Goals.
Malaria, which is completely preventable and treatable, was the cause of over a million deaths in 2000, the majority among children under the age of five. After the substantial scaling up of malaria funding following the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), by 2013 the number of people dying from malaria worldwide had fallen by 47 percent. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that this has amounted to 670 million fewer cases and 4.3 million fewer deaths. MDG 6, relating to combating HIV/AIDS and childhood illnesses, is one of the few that is on course to be met, and the progress made in fighting the disease has contributed greatly to reducing newborn, infant and maternal mortality (MDG 4 and 5).
This is an impressive achievement that the international community should be proud of. The UK Government has played a leading role in this, increasing malaria spending throughout this Parliament to a total of £536 million in 2013-14. Combating malaria, neglected tropical diseases and other childhood diseases commands a high degree of cross-party support in Parliament, led by members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Malaria and NTDs. Proof of what can be achieved with such bipartisan support was demonstrated in the closing weeks of the parliamentary term, when MPs across the house ensured that the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of Gross National Income on aid was enshrined in law.
When Parliament is recalled in May it is crucial that strong, cross-party political support is maintained, so that the progress achieved so far in the fight against malaria is protected. We know from past experience that if efforts are relaxed and funding dries up, malaria can resurge extremely quickly.
As well as protecting the gains already achieved, we must also increase international efforts in order to face both new and existing challenges. Drug resistant strains of the malaria parasite are emerging and spreading in the Greater Mekong Subregion of Southeast Asia, threatening to reduce the efficacy of one of our most effective treatments for the disease. If drug resistant malaria was to reach Africa, where 90 percent of the disease burden exists, the impact could be devastating. Therefore national, regional and international stakeholders must work together to eliminate malaria before this happens.
We must also work to strengthen health systems in developing countries. This necessity was made starkly apparent by the inability of West African countries affected by the Ebola crisis to cope with the strain on their fragile health systems, as well as by the knock-on impact of the crisis on other health services. Besides being able to cope with sudden disease outbreaks, strong health systems become increasingly important as the burden of malaria is reduced and disease control activities are scaled back. The Sustainable Development Goals are likely to include a bold target of extending universal health coverage to all. This will require a renewed commitment to health system strengthening.
To face these challenges, and realise the goal of defeating malaria within a generation, global funding for malaria control and prevention must be nearly doubled. The WHO estimate that $5.1 billion is needed each year to achieve global targets for malaria control, against current available funding of $2.7 billion. Low and middle income countries will have to do more to fund malaria interventions, but donor nations must also play their part, both financially and politically.
Whoever wins the next election, committed political advocates, from every party, will be crucial in ensuring that the UK continues to lead the world in development, global health and malaria control, and that it uses its position to encourage others to do the same. Malaria Consortium look forward to working with new and existing parliamentarians to achieve this when Parliament is recalled.
Keywords: Advocacy and policy