Good news on malaria

Cause for optimism on malaria.

An unusual spirit of optimism is rising following a major scientific conference on malaria held in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Boy being treated for malariaBiologist and global public health practitioner with African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), Chris White, reports that perhaps for the first time in the history of malaria control, or at least since the failed eradication era of the 1950s, the end of malaria as a global health threat might be in sight.

The conference in November, organised by the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM), was held back to back with the Global Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership Forum, and the meetings involved over 2,000 of the world’s leading malaria specialists and public health professionals.

A number of factors contribute to the optimism. Malaria – the number one killer of African children – has caught the world’s attention. Malaria has been recognised as a global development issue which must be addressed if the Millennium Development Goals are to be approached, let alone achieved. There is now an arsenal of prevention and control tools with more under development. There now exists a previously unknown level of political will in both the northern and southern hemispheres. And initiatives such as the Global Fund for HIV and Aids, TB and Malaria as well as the World Bank Booster Programme, the Gate’s Foundation and the US President’s Malaria Initiative mean there is financial backing for scaling up and achieving unprecedented impact.

Against this backdrop the Cameroon meetings saw the official launch of the first ever Roll Back Malaria Global Strategic Plan. Although criticisms have been voiced regarding the strategy’s content, few doubt that it sets out a framework for all members of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership – acting as a call to action and a structure for scaling up interventions and sustaining impact.

There is now widespread confidence among malaria professionals that there is also cause for optimism among communities in largely rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America. If this strategy is aggressively pursued by malaria endemic countries and their development partners, malaria should not be a fact of life for millions of the developing world’s poorest within the next 5-10 years. Scientists point to evidence of successes in countries like Malawi, Eritrea, Tanzania, Vietnam, India and Brazil.

In these countries, the conference heard, a number of common conditions were behind these breakthroughs. Most important was the existence of a committed and accountable national leadership with a strong desire to work in a co-ordinated fashion with in-country partners.