After more than a decade of steady advances in fighting malaria, progress has levelled off. According to WHO’s latest World malaria report, no significant gains were made in reducing malaria cases in the period 2015 to 2017. The estimated number of malaria deaths in 2017, at 435 000, remained virtually unchanged over the previous year.
The WHO African Region continues to shoulder more than 90% of the global malaria burden. Worryingly, in the 10 African countries hardest hit by malaria, there were an estimated 3.5 million more cases of the disease in 2017 over the previous year.
Country ownership key to success
Urgent action is needed, and ownership of the challenge lies in the hands of countries most affected by malaria. On World Malaria Day 2019, WHO joins the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, the African Union Commission and other partner organizations in promoting “Zero malaria starts with me,” a grassroots campaign that aims to keep malaria high on the political agenda, mobilize additional resources, and empower communities to take ownership of malaria prevention and care.
The “Zero malaria” campaign – first launched in Senegal in 2014 – was officially endorsed at the African Union Summit by all African Heads of State in July 2018. It engages all members of society: political leaders who control government policy decisions and budgets; private sector companies that will benefit from a malaria-free workforce; and communities affected by malaria, whose buy-in and ownership of malaria control interventions is critical to success.
As the WHO Director General has noted, individual and community empowerment through grassroots initiatives like the “Zero malaria” campaign can play a critical role in driving progress in the global malaria fight.
“Globally, the world has made incredible progress against malaria. But we are still too far from the end point we seek: a world free of malaria. Every year, the global tally of new malaria cases exceeds 200 million. And every 2 minutes, a child dies from this preventable and treatable disease. The damage inflicted extends far beyond loss of life: malaria takes a heavy toll on health systems, sapping productivity and eroding economic growth. Ultimately, investing in universal health care is the best way to ensure that all communities have access to the services they need to beat malaria. Individual and community empowerment through grassroots initiatives like “Zero malaria starts with me” can also play a critical role in driving progress.”
– Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Getting back on track
As a response to the data and trends published in the World malaria report, WHO and the RBM Partnership recently catalyzed “High burden to high impact”, a new approach to get the malaria fight back on track, particularly in countries that carry the highest burden of disease. The approach is founded on 4 pillars:
- Political will to reduce malaria deaths
- Strategic information to drive impact
- Better guidance, policies and strategies
- A coordinated national malaria response
Pillar 1 calls on leaders of malaria-affected countries to translate their stated political commitments into resources and tangible actions that will save more lives. To this end, campaigns that engage communities and country leaders – like “Zero malaria starts with me” – can foster an environment of accountability and action.