Eliminating malaria is a reachable goal

Climate events such as floods make it more of a challenge but the aim can be met

A civilian man fleeing violence seats in a bed covered with a mosquito net in the city of Semera, Ethiopia. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Even on the tiniest scale, the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito can cause damage vastly disproportionate to its size of a few parasitic millimetres.

In too many vulnerable parts of the world, with Africa being the worst-affected continent, a mosquito bite can bring on the symptoms of malaria: fever, nausea, muscle aches, persistent fatigue and breathing difficulties. In the worst cases, when left untreated, people who contract the disease could succumb to kidney failure and death within 24 hours. Despite the severeness and sobering statistics – of the 247 million cases in 2021, an estimated 619,000 people died of it – malaria is preventable and curable.

To this end, and on World Malaria Day this week, President Sheikh Mohamed reiterated that helping people in need is a collective responsibility.

The eradication of this disease – along with several other tropical ones such as polio, river blindness and guinea worm disease – has been an important mission for the UAE. For more than a decade, the country has provided funds and worked closely with partner organisations.

In January alone, the UAE delivered a $5 million boost to an international campaign to address the effects of climate change on efforts to eradicate malaria. And the Reaching the Last Mile initiative – a portfolio of global health programmes, part of which is a 10-year, $100 million fund launched by Sheikh Mohamed in 2017 with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to combat the world's deadliest diseases – will provide key investment until the year 2026.

With such consistent effort, measurable progress has been made. More than 1.8 billion cases have been prevented in the past two decades and 11 million lives having been saved. However, there can be little room for complacency when a goal as vital as disease eradication is being aimed for, one that safeguards lives and protects the most vulnerable sections of the population – pregnant women and infants. Climate events have further complicated efforts to get ahead of the disease in some regions.

Last month, in Malawi, Cyclone Freddy reportedly caused six months' worth of rainfall in six days that then led to a sharp increase in malaria cases. People were affected by malaria last year, too, after the calamitous floods in Pakistan that left a third of the country under water. Mosquitoes breed in pools of stagnant water and cases in the aftermath of the floods rose four-fold to 1.6 million, according to the World Health Organisation.

While endangering and claiming lives, the disease is also putting huge pressure on global health systems. Erratic weather events, increasingly linked to climate change, cause setbacks to the progress in eradication efforts and underline the need to remain focused on the ultimate goal.

Climate events have unleashed the disease beyond the tropics or Africa. At the Forecasting Healthy Futures summit in Abu Dhabi last month, experts warned that malaria was increasingly prevalent at higher altitudes in areas of Africa and Latin America, as well as in countries such as Greece, which were not previously viewed as hot spots.

Given the added challenges across the world, we must bear in mind that as significant as the achievements have been, the road to malaria elimination is not without obstacles. Equally though, and with collective effort, neither is it out of reach.

Published: April 27, 2023, 2:00 AM
Updated: April 28, 2023, 5:48 AM