Working together to sustain the gains on World Malaria Day

25 April 2012

Commonwealth Secretariat and leading health organisations discuss the current malaria situation and what needs to happen to 'Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria'

Leading health organisations gathered at the Commonwealth Secretariat on World Malaria Day to discuss how the Commonwealth can assist in sustaining the gains made in tackling malaria.

Representatives exchanged news on the current global and Commonwealth malaria situation and what needs to happen to 'Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria', the theme for this year, at the Secretariat’s headquarters in London, UK, on 25 April.

: “Malaria traps families and communities in a downward spiral of poverty, disproportionately affecting marginalised and poor people who cannot afford treatment or who have limited access to health care” – WHO.

According to the WHO, malaria can decrease the gross domestic product of some high-burden countries by over one per cent.

Organisations attending included the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, Medicines for Malaria Venture, The Malaria Consortium, the UK Department for International Development, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Global Health Pathway.

Addressing delegates, acting head of the Secretariat division in charge of health, Esther Eghobamien, said: “The gains made in fighting malaria in the Commonwealth are fragile, especially with the financial crisis.

“We need to look at combining our efforts and resources to combat malaria and sustain the gains made.”

Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

Every year, 3.3 billion people are at risk of malaria leading to an estimated 655,000 deaths, with an uncertainty range of between 537,000 to 907,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

People living in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable and seven out of the ten countries with the highest malaria cases and deaths are in the Commonwealth. But the disease is preventable and treatable.

At their biennial meeting in Australia in 2011, Commonwealth leaders recognised the importance of expanding the Secretariat’s health work to address prevalent diseases such as malaria, which act as a major obstacle to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

Delegates at the World Malaria Day event heard that the disease can slow down the social and economic development of countries through lost hours at work and school. Up to 25 per cent of household income can go towards funding treatment and healthcare in countries with a high malaria burden.

With the increased use of malaria control measures such as insecticide treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying and treatments like artemisinin-based combination therapy, the malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25 per cent globally since 2000 and by 33 per cent in the WHO African Region. However the recurring trend of parasites growing resistance to different anti-malarials means there is a continuous battle to sustain the gains made.

Dr Thomas Teuscher of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership said: “We need US$3.2bn over the next three years to sustain the gains in Africa of where we are today and to move towards near zero deaths.

“Commonwealth members have an important role for malaria control because of its network of peers - ensuring that in the appropriate countries malaria remains high on the agenda.”

Speakers also highlighted the global nature of the disease as people increasingly travel to endemic countries without taking preventative medicines such as anti-malarials.

Executive Director of the Malaria Consortium Sunil Mehra said: “If the Commonwealth can come behind malaria control, it could help to shape a more coherent and sustained process. If you do achieve things in this association the contribution it could make is significant.”

Delegates explored areas the Commonwealth can add value, including: educating populations about the disease and its prevention through the media, schools and Commonwealth events; emphasising the economic benefits of tackling the disease to finance ministers; recognising the synergies between malaria and other disease control programmes; ensuring access to up-to-date guidance; and advocating for malaria to remain on the global and national agenda.