The eradication of malaria is now at a “crossroads” as developments made in the early-2000s have stagnated, said health experts and organizers of a London summit attended to by royalty, heads of state, and philanthropists.
While ridding the entire world of malaria is “ambitious,” Bill Gates, Microsoft founder-turned-philanthropist said at the summit, new investments and prevention methods are needed to push the efforts as progress stalls.
“If we don’t keep innovating, we will go backwards,” he said, noting that regression risks the lives of one million children a year.
Speaking about UK and the Commonwealth plans to collaboratively address malaria, Britain’s Prince Charles said in a keynote address that “it is tragically evident that much still remains to be done” and committing to change was “”vitally important.”
The Prince, who has traveled to malaria-afflicted areas, made what he called a “plea” for an integrated approach to combat malaria over the next generation. Fighting malaria was not part of some “a la carte” menu, he said, warning that it is not a charitable cause that can be picked up and dropped sporadically.
For the first time in 10 years, worldwide malaria cases have stopped decreasing. Despite significant developments to combat the disease between 2000 and 2015, when 62 percent of cases were defeated (WHO), 2016 saw 216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries, five million more than in 2015.
Dwindling political attention, insecticide resistance, and plateauing global funding have been attributed to stalling progress.
The mosquito-borne disease kills half a million people every year, and mostly affects pregnant women and children under five. A child dies from malaria every two minutes, according to a report by advocacy group Malaria No Morewhich is organizing the summit. Africa accounts for over 90 percent of global malaria cases and 91 percent of malaria deaths.
Cases of malaria have decreased over the past half-century, but half of the world’s population is still at risk. At least 10 countries on the African continent, including Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are facing increasing cases of malaria, after other places, including Burundi in East Africa and Gauteng Province in South Africa, had outbreaks in 2017.
Royals, philanthropists, celebrities, and heads of government, business and health came together in central London on April 18 to announce renewed efforts to tackle the disease, to encourage Commonwealth leaders to commit to halving cases of malaria by 2023, and to urge world leaders to pledge more money towards prevention.
Commonwealth leaders such as Peter Mutharika, president of Malawi and Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, committed to halving cases of malaria by 2023, with many others hoping to eliminate it completely in the following decade.
Halving the number of those affected the disease would prevent 350 million cases of malaria and save 650,000 lives, said James Whiting, executive director of Malaria No More. Efforts to treat malaria need to get “back on track” said Whiting during a press conference call.
The summit, organized by Malaria No More in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and supported by British Prime Minister Theresa May, pledged investment of over $3.8 billion (£2.7 billion) to pay for innovation in malaria research and treatment.
The summit coincides with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, a biennial convening of 53 Commonwealth leaders, whose countries are disproportion