The EU must further pursue existing partnerships with researchers and malaria-endemic countries in order to develop new tools to eradicate the disease, writes Maurice Ponga.
The Ebola virus death toll in west Africa is a reminder that tropical and neglected diseases such as malaria, Aids, tuberculosis and dengue remain a prominent global health challenge. The world health organization (WHO) estimates that over one billion people suffer from one or more neglected diseases. April is dedicated to health issues as part of the European year for development and world malaria day is on 25 April. In this context, I believe the EU should strengthen its leadership on global health and development policy, starting with the fight against malaria.
Despite being an entirely preventable and treatable mosquito-borne illness, malaria was present in 97 countries and territories in 2014, putting an estimated 3.2 billion people around the world at risk of infection. The sixth millennium development goal (MDG6), which aimed to halve and reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015, has successfully contributed to the fight against the disease.
Over the past decade, malaria mortality rates have dropped by 47 per cent worldwide, with 64 countries set to meet the MDG6 target thanks to increased prevention and control measures. Despite this progress, the WHO estimates that about 198 million people had malaria in 2013, and about 584,000 died from it, mainly in Africa. Moreover, the parasite responsible for the major strand of malaria is becoming resistant to existing therapies in parts of south east Asia.
“Despite being an entirely preventable and treatable mosquito-borne illness, malaria was present in 97 countries and territories in 2014, putting an estimated 3.2 billion people around the world at risk of infection”
Against this background, the fight against malaria requires continued efforts and investments, as well as a renewed push in research and development (R&D) to work towards new insecticides, better diagnostic tools and more effective treatments. These include drugs for fighting increasing resistance to current treatments and a complete cure that would enable patients to be cleared from all malaria parasites and stop transmission to other people. Additionally, single dose treatments would enable patients to take the entire treatment at once, virtually eliminating the risk of insufficient treatment.
One key to making faster progress is to pool resources together and work in partnership – enabling NGOs, governments, academia and the private sector to contribute their best assets towards the elimination of malaria. The EU can make a positive contribution through existing participative initiatives, such as the European and developing countries clinical trials partnership (EDCTP2), which aims to accelerate the development of new or improved drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostics against poverty-related and neglected diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, such as malaria.
I also welcome the activities of private companies, such as Novartis, which have demonstrated significant commitment to the eradication of malaria. Since 2001, the Novartis malaria initiative has consistently been a frontrunner in the fight against the disease, by improving access to treatment, helping communities deliver better healthcare and investing in R&D in the next generation of antimalarials.
Last but not least, strengthening health systems and building local capacity is also a key factor of success. The involvement of governments from malaria-endemic countries is absolutely critical for drug delivery or healthcare services to function, and working with local communities is important to ensure that public information campaigns create proper awareness among the population.
I very much hope that the post-2015 development agenda will continue fostering funding and efforts in the fight against malaria globally, and meet further successes. Such successes are not only vital for improving the lives of populations and the socioeconomic development of endemic countries; they show us the way forward as to what can be achieved in global health through multilateral partnerships.
Published: 14 April 2015. By Maurice Ponga
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