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The Borders Issue

We're Closer Than Ever to Wiping Out Malaria

We're closer than ever to eradicating malaria, but not there yet. If we don't double down, we risk losing all the progress that's been made.

by Kaleigh Rogers
28 June 2016, 12:00am

Photo via iStock

This article appeared in the June issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Last month, I visited Tanzania to report on malaria. The name comes from the Italian mal'aria, which means "bad air." It was coined at a time when we still gave diseases poetic monikers and believed the parasitic infection was spread through the air, instead of infectious mosquito bites. It's a reminder that malaria is one of our most ancient foes, one that has proved difficult to smite. But over the past decade, a previously unmatched global push to defeat the disease has seen remarkable success. For the first time, we can see a future where we're free of an infection that kills about half a million people each year.

In the past 15 years, malaria deaths globally have dropped 60 percent. In Africa, where the majority of infections occur, malaria deaths fell by 66 percent. Last year, there were zero reported cases of malaria in Europe for the first time, and each year countries join the list of nations reporting no infections.

The World Health Organization estimates annual malaria funding will need to more than triple over the next 15 years, from $2.7 billion today to $8.7 billion by 2030.

This was no easy task. It was born out of a commitment made during a UN meeting at the start of the millennium. Bolstered by NGOs, governments around the world set goals and crafted a plan to knock out malaria. One of the most significant strategies was one of the simplest: Get everybody in malaria-endemic regions sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets. In 2000, fewer than 2 percent of households in Africa had insecticide-treated nets. Now, more than half do. We've also improved our ability to diagnose and treat malaria; tested strategies like seasonal malaria chemoprevention, giving children anti-malaria medicine; and controlled the mosquito population through indoor insecticide spraying.

We're closer than ever to eradicating malaria, but not there yet. We have a plan that builds off of everything we've learned so far. That includes funding research to find new treatments, such as a vaccine—a dream that may be in reach. There are more than 30 vaccine candidates in trials now, but we'll also need to invest in practical ideas, like helping countries set up systems to monitor malaria, especially if it's close to being eliminated locally.

The World Health Organization estimates annual malaria funding will need to more than triple over the next 15 years, from $2.7 billion today to $8.7 billion by 2030. If we don't double down, we risk losing all the progress that's been made. With the Zika virus ravaging at our doorstep, we've been reminded of what it's like when a mosquito is not just a pest, but a legitimate health risk. For one of the oldest mosquito-carried diseases, we finally have a shot at ending that fear.

This article appeared in the June issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.