We have the tools to prevent and cure malaria (distribution of mosquito nets, antimalarial treatment and insecticides has knocked malaria deaths down by more than a quarter worldwide since 2000), but the bite of infected mosquitoes still sickens millions. In 2010 the disease killed 655,000 people, mostly African children, according to the World Health Organization.
Today is World Malaria Day 2012, a day of awareness led by Roll Back Malaria, a global partnership launched by WHO, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank to mobilize a coordinated response to malaria. WHO has announced a new initiative to scale up testing, treatment and surveillance, and news organizations and blogs have been weighing in all day on the world’s progress in malaria control.
In a PLoS blog entry, Estrella Lasry, MSc, MD, a physician working for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, writes that she finds worldwide progress encouraging but sees shortfalls. She describes a recent visit to the Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
During my trip I visited three new sites and one longstanding project. All faced enormous gaps in medicines, diagnostics and malaria control activities. In some areas the last bed net distribution was 3 years ago, and no indoor residual spraying had been done in over a year.
Lasry isn’t the only person who sees continued need for improvement. According to a new study in Malaria Journal, there have been 75 documented instances of malaria resurgence worldwide since the 1930s – and the majority of these were associated with a weakening of malaria control programs. As leader author Justin Cohen, PhD, MPH, says on Medical News Today:
Malaria control programs have been shown to be extremely successful in reducing the number of cases of malaria to very low levels, but history demonstrates that gains can be lost rapidly if financial and political support is not sustained. Finding ways to ensure continued funding for malaria control today will be crucial to building on the gains of the past decade.
Thoughtful assessment on progress is also necessary, Lasry concludes, saying we need to acknowledge and deliver better tools and strategies to “regions where efforts are inadequate, and failing – countries like DRC that are afflicted by conflict, instability and/or simply mired at the bottom of the development scale.”