Today, we commemorate World Malaria Day to highlight malaria and its devastating impact on families, communities and development. Malaria is a global and regional priority which continues to kill over 400 000 people around the world each year.
The theme of “End Malaria for Good” stresses the need to accelerate and sustain efforts to defeat malaria. Countries have committed to end the malaria epidemic by 2030 as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. World Malaria Day is an occasion to renew political commitment and continue investment for malaria prevention and control.
The African Region has made significant progress in the fight against malaria. The 2016 World Malaria Report shows that between 2010 – 2015, the estimated new cases of malaria in the Region had dropped by 23%, and deaths from malaria were down by 31%. The African Region had also prevented the most deaths (94%): of the estimated 6.8 million fewer malaria deaths between 2001 and 2015, about 6.6 million (97%) were children aged under 5 years.
This achievement reflects the extraordinary commitment of individuals, families and communities, health care workers, national authorities and partners to change behavior, scale up cost-effective prevention and to manage patients. A critical strategy to prevent malaria has been increased use of insecticide-treated nets and indoor spraying with insecticides.
The results of this accelerated prevention are impressive. We know from the 2016 World Malaria Report that over the last five years across sub-Saharan Africa, nearly double the population at risk of malaria are now sleeping under insecticide-treated nets. Diagnostic testing for children has increased sharply by 77%, and preventive treatment for pregnant woman increased five-fold in 20 African countries.
2017 heralds a new age of prevention and another potential weapon against this deadly disease. WHO has announced that the world’s first malaria vaccine will be rolled out through pilot projects in sub-Saharan Africa. The vaccine – known as RTS,S - provides partial protection against malaria in young children. It is being assessed as a complement to the existing package of WHO-recommended malaria preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures. This test phase of this vaccine is a milestone in the fight against malaria.
To keep momentum and sustain the gains, in August 2016 countries in the African Region adopted a framework for implementing the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria (GTS 2016-2030). This blueprint describes priority interventions and actions for countries, providing clear strategic approaches to accelerate progress towards malaria elimination in Africa.
Although commendable progress has been made, malaria remains a major public health and development challenge in Africa. Major gaps in programme coverage remain. The pace of progress must speed up to reach the global target of at least a 40% reduction in malaria cases and deaths by 2020, compared to 2015 levels.
We can achieve a malaria-free Africa with strong coordination, clear strategies and determined actions. In countries where the disease is widespread, efforts to reduce and eliminate malaria are increasingly viewed as high-impact, strategic investments that generate significant returns for public health, help to alleviate poverty, improve equity and contribute to overall development.
To speed up progress towards the global and regional targets, WHO is calling on malaria-affected countries and their development partners to boost investments in malaria prevention to propel countries along the path to elimination. As we commemorate World Malaria Day, I call on countries to implement concrete actions across sectors, strengthen cross-border collaboration and allocate adequate resources to end malaria. With the required resources, and all partners united, we can transform our common vision – End Malaria for Good – into a shared reality.