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Ending malaria is possible

We mark World Malaria Day on April 25. This year’s theme was Zero Malaria—Draw the Line against Malaria.

This is the right time to take action to end the disease just when Covid-19 has made the fight harder.

On this day, we highlight and appreciate the efforts to control malaria and celebrate the gains so far.

Since 2000, the world has made historic progress against malaria, saving millions of lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) World Malaria Report of 2020 shows that 7.6 million malaria-related deaths have been averted since 2000.

Malaria is endemic in more than 95 percent of Malawi and it remains one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality across all age groups.

The National Malaria Control Programme has scaled up prevention, treatment and care services also targeting pregnant women by distributing insecticide-treated nets and residual spray in some districts like in Balaka, Mangochi and Nkhata Bay.

Progress is promising. Between 2006 and 2015, the mortality rate for children aged under five declined to about 64 deaths per 1 000 live births.

This success results from concerted efforts by governments, donors, and multilateral institutions such as the Global Fund, which provides 56 percent of all international financing for malaria. The fund has invested more than $13.5 billion in malaria control programmes since the year 2002.

As malaria continues to cause needless deaths, Covid-19 has complicated the fight to end the disease. The pandemic and restrictions have disrupted essential malaria services.

Initial messaging to reduce coronavirus transmission advised the public to stay at home if they had fever, potentially disrupting treatment for those who may have had malaria. The lockdowns slowed down malaria prevention programmes such as the distribution of mosquito nets.

This disruption to malaria prevention and treatment is causing increase in deaths from the disease and potentially will lead to a surge in deaths in subsequent years. Children and pregnant women particularly remain at great risk.

The fight against malaria must remain a priority. It is time for rigorous efforts to protect everyone who is at risk of malaria and to guard the tremendous strides made in fighting the disease.

This calls for high-impact investments in education, prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including research and development and building stronger health systems. To achieve this, there is need for stronger political leadership, more funding and increased innovation.

Community engagement and robust partnerships with private sector, foundations, academia, government, civil society, for joint planning, execution and accountabilities will play an important role in malaria elimination.

Continuing to invest in research and scaling up country-driven innovations such as real-time data and next generation nets will help us stay ahead of the mosquitoes’ killer tactics.

Social and gender norms that present barriers to accessing healthcare, especially among poor and vulnerable women who are often primary caregivers, should be addressed. These actions to beat malaria must strongly engage communities and the youth.

The efforts to beat Covid-19 must not come at the expense of accelerating progress against malaria. Malaria investments can be leveraged to fight Covid-19 and emerging diseases by promoting and facilitating safe and timely treatment of fever and ensuring that health workers are adequately protected and equipped.

Critically, malaria programmes must be integrated with broader efforts to build stronger health systems for health, which are anchored on established community health systems.

Ending endemic diseases such as malaria will contribute to strengthening fragile health systems and beating pandemics because it will reduce the burden on health systems and increase capacity to detect, prevent and respond to pandemics.

Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19, malaria elimination remains a viable goal that will contribute to achieving universal healthcare coverage so that everybody has access to efficient, effective and affordable healthcare wherever they are and whenever they need it.

Malaria elimination is possible. Zero malaria is within reach.


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