What you need to know:
- Africa carries 90 per cent of the global malaria burden with children under five most at risk.
- In Africa, fragile health systems face a dual burden of preventing malaria cases and managing Covid-19 infections.
The report of a recent study in Rwanda published in The Lancet has raised fears over the spread of malaria drug resistance across Africa. Researchers found that the deadliest type of malaria parasite has developed genetic mutations that allow them to evade anti-malaria drugs.
Giving a child a course of artemisinin combination drugs does not always clear the parasites from their blood in three days as it usually would. The consequences of artemisinin resistance are grave.
Africa carries 90 per cent of the global malaria burden with children under five most at risk. With 229 million global cases and 409,000 deaths in 2019, malaria is a health security crisis that places an enormous strain on Africa’s health systems, undermines economies and devastates families and communities.
In recent years, operational, technical and financial challenges have brought malaria elimination to a plateau and limited progress to curb the disease. The Rwanda study shows if we don’t invest in the surveillance of drug resistance we could lose decades of progress in malaria war.
In Africa, fragile health systems face a dual burden of preventing malaria cases and managing Covid-19 infections. The pandemic has disrupted the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and access to diagnosis and treatment. Patients in malaria-affected countries may be unable or reluctant to seek care due to fear or stigmatisation of Covid-19.
But we cannot focus on beating Covid-19 at the expense of accelerating progress against malaria, a preventable and treatable disease. There is a clear, urgent need to intensify global efforts to achieve a malaria-free world through research and development, health system strengthening, resource mobilisation and community engagement.
The success in the Greater Mekong sub region, where cases and deaths have reduced by over 90 per cent since 2000, validates a cross-border approach to fighting malaria. The Global Institute for Disease Elimination (Glide) is exploring work to support regional malaria elimination in the African Sahel. The Sahel Malaria Elimination Initiative is aimed at accelerating malaria elimination goals by 2030 in the sub region.
The platform aims to combine efforts on scaling up and sustaining universal coverage of anti-malarials and mobilising financing for elimination. It also aims to fast-track the introduction of innovative technologies to combat malaria and develop a sub-regional scorecard that will track progress.
Malaria elimination is possible and critical to fighting other current and future diseases. The WHO’s report of the E-2020 initiative, published on April 21, revealed that eight countries, including Algeria and Cabo Verde, reported zero indigenous cases of human malaria by the end of 2020.
Yesterday was World Malaria Day, which recognises efforts to combat malaria. Ridding the world of this ancient disease of poverty will lead to healthier, more resilient communities that are better able to thrive, prosper and confront new health challenges.
Mr Bland is the CEO of Glide. @SimonjrBland