To mark World Malaria Day on Monday, Britain pledges it will help to halve malaria deaths in 10 of the worst affected countries in Africa and Asia over the next four years
The facts are stark: every week 15,000 children die from a disease that is not only treatable but preventable.
When I became development secretary I pledged the UK would do all it could to make malaria a thing of the past. When I commissioned reviews of all the UK’s aid programmes, I made malaria one of our top priorities.
Those reviews set out our plans – over the next four years we will help to halve malaria deaths in 10 of the worst affected countries in Africa and Asia. We will improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, and we will support the development of innovative ways to tackle the disease.
Our approach to aid means making every penny count, and doing what works. We will start with one of the simplest but most effective weapons against this disease: bednets.
It costs less than £4 to deliver a long-lasting insecticide treated bednet. We can save the lives of 3 million children by 2015 if every child at risk of malaria sleeps under a net. The UK will oversee a massive increase in the number of bednets, targeting them especially at women and children. Through the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria, we are contributing to the distribution of 110m bednets in the developing world.
The UK will work with partners to scale up access to and use of effective diagnosis and treatment of malaria, to make sure that these are available to those who need it most – particularly women and children – when they need it.
Too many children with malaria are not getting malaria drugs, while at the same time many children with other diseases are being given malaria drugs that they do not need. New rapid diagnostic tests allow doctors in Africa and Asia to improve the diagnosis of fever in children. Malaria is often mistaken for pneumonia, meningitis and other major diseases. These new tests, combined with improved training for people seeing children with fevers, can reduce deaths from malaria and from other common childhood illnesses.
Because the effects of mistreatment are far-reaching. Inappropriately used malarial drugs can build up drug-resistant strains of the disease, which can follow patterns of migration and spread across the globe. This is why the UK is spearheading a drive to tackle malaria in Burma, where drug-resistant strains of the disease have been detected.
Innovative programmes and partnerships are the third prong of our approach. We must continue to outpace this disease, be it though public-private partnerships like the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, which helps to galvanise and co-ordinate malaria efforts; the Medicines for Malaria Venture, which is finding innovative ways of increasing access to medication; or by funding organisations such as Unitaid to secure the supply of arteminisin, a vital component of anti-malarials.
There have been notable successes, especially in Africa. In five years, following rapid improvements in control efforts, deaths from malaria fell by nearly 70% in Rwanda and 62% in Ethiopia. In Zanzibar, in east Africa, overall deaths from malaria have fallen 90% since 2003.
These success stories should give us hope. While eliminating malaria completely will always be our ultimate goal, there is no reason why anyone should die from it. Every life lost is needless. With common resolve and a united front we can beat malaria.