Malaria has plagued mankind for millennia. In the 5th century B.C, Herodotus described using fishing nets at night to protect against biting gnats. A malaria epidemic in the 5th Century A.D., may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. And the disease was so prevalent in Elizabethan England that Shakespeare features malaria in nine of his plays.
Ten years ago, President Bush announced the creation of a Malaria Initiative to combat the ancient disease that inflicts an intolerable burden of suffering and death, particularly among young children and pregnant women. At the time, malaria killed more than 1 million people each year, mostly in Africa, and burdened health systems with up to 45 percent of all hospital admissions.
The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) began with three focus countries in 2007, expanding deliberately to 15 focus countries in Africa. President Obama then expanded the initiative, and bipartisan Congressional leadership has sustained our work.
Today, PMI works in 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and regionally in Latin America and the Greater Mekong.
Together with partner countries, we are bringing effective tools to the people who needed them most; women and children, including use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment, and intermittent preventive treatment of pregnant women.
Last year, PMI protected over 18 million people with spraying of homes, and also procured more than 31 million long-lasting ITNs, 80 million antimalarial treatments, and more than 59 million rapid diagnostic tests.
And we have placed strong emphasis on community-based treatment of malaria and other fevers. Health care workers armed with the right information, life-saving commodities and regular training and support, can provide families with access to essential care right in their communities. Through the approach, known as Integrated Community Case Management (iCCm), community health workers can diagnose and treat fever and respiratory infections, and can counsel mothers on providing oral rehydration solution for diarrhea, on hand washing, and exclusive breast feeding.
In 2014 alone, in collaboration with partner countries PMI supported training of more than 85,000 health workers in administering malaria diagnosis and treatment. In almost all cases, these trainings had a focus broader than just malaria also training health workers to effectively diagnose and treat the other main causes of childhood illness — diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition. Doing so, builds local capacity and strengthens local systems.
An estimated 4 million malaria-related deaths have been averted worldwide in the last decade. Of these, 95 percent are estimated to be children under 5 in Africa. Less malaria means less newborn, infant and maternal deaths, fewer days missed at school and work, more productive communities, and stronger economies.
We are getting much closer to a world without malaria.
As a child I grew up in Ban Me Thuot, in the central highlands of French Indochina, in what is now Vietnam. I had malaria as a child, and was fortunate to sleep under a net and have medicine to cure me. But far too many people are still vulnerable, still without access to prevention tools and treatment.
World Malaria Day is Saturday, April 25, 2015. Each year, this day commemorates progress toward a world without malaria and mobilizes action to combat the disease. On this occasion, PMI, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), releases its Ninth Annual Report to Congress, outlining the U.S. Government’s contributions to the global fight against malaria.
We recommit to bringing the tools and effective solutions we already possess to people in need, where they live, in rural communities; and the global community must continue to invest in research and development for new and improved tools to combat this disease, from vaccines to new drugs to more sensitive diagnostics and surveillance systems.
With partner countries, we plan to provide financial and technical support to reduce malaria mortality by one-third from 2015 levels in PMI-supported countries, achieving a greater than 80 percent reduction from 2000 baseline levels. That is really remarkable when you think about it — an 80 percent reduction in 20 years.
Malaria still disproportionally affects the poor and traps families in a vicious cycle of disease and poverty. Every day is malaria day for hundreds of millions of people. And for more than one thousand people suffering from malaria, mostly children, today will be their last. Our task is ensure no one should die from this disease which is largely preventable and easily treatable.
About the Author: Rear Admiral (RET) Tim Ziemer serves as the U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator.