Malaria should be eradicated, not tolerated

Guinea worm disease and polio could soon go the way of smallpox. With the right strategies and funding, malaria could join them

Worryingly, the World Health Organisation this week said that progress in reducing the mosquito-borne disease has 'ground to a standstill'. AP
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So many of the global challenges facing us today seem beyond our ability to meet. War in the Middle East, the relentless breaking of climate records, economic instability – to name but three – present themselves as problems of labyrinthine complexity. It is frustrating today that there are issues that continue to blight millions of lives, despite clear remedies.

Malaria is one such issue. On this World Malaria Day, statistics from the World Health Organisation make sobering reading. In 2022, more than 600,000 people died from the disease and nearly 250 million new cases were recorded, almost all of them in Africa. And yet, even though global health programmes and private philanthropy have succeeded in reducing the number of fatalities from malaria, the mosquito-borne infection still claims too many lives.

Worryingly, the WHO this week said that progress in reducing malaria has “ground to a standstill” and important 2025 targets in its global malaria strategy look set to pass unmet. It is a cruel fact that vulnerable people – pregnant women, infants, children under five, refugees, migrants, the internally displaced, and indigenous peoples – bear the brunt of a collective failure to halt the disease.

Although a malaria infection can be cured if medical treatment is swift, too many people lack access to good-quality health care. This presents a long-term problem; untreated malaria frequently becomes a life-long, recurring infection. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine highlights that it “exerts a tremendous impact on the body, which can have long-term health repercussions” that include increased susceptibility to bacterial infection as well as cognitive impairment. “Mounting evidence”, the institution says, “suggest that this is merely the tip of the iceberg”.

Thankfully, some remain undaunted by the apparent intractability of this challenge. The UAE, whose years of concerted effort to control the disease led to the country being officially declared malaria free in 2007, continues to support international efforts to eradicate it. The UAE is among the largest donors to ending malaria. Yesterday, it was announced that Reaching the Last Mile – a collection of global health programmes driven by the philanthropy of President Sheikh Mohamed – has made a Dh55 million ($14.9 million) commitment to the Global Institute for Disease Elimination, its second since the institute’s launch in 2019. Over the past 10 years, Sheikh Mohamed has committed more than $470 million to improving health outcomes for people around the world, through strategic partnerships.

Well-funded and strategic international co-operation gets results. According to Reaching the Last Mile, two other major global diseases – Guinea worm disease and polio – are set to become the next human diseases to be eradicated, going the way of smallpox in 1980. In addition, fewer people are suffering from neglected tropical diseases; in the past five years, the number of people at risk for such conditions has fallen by 20 per cent – from two billion to 1.6 billion.

This shows what can be achieved with the right will, targeted funding and clear strategies. The sheer number of people at risk from malaria, and the devastating effect the disease can have on fragile societies and economies, should focus minds on reaching what should be an attainable goal, and chalking up another win for humanity.

Published: April 25, 2024, 3:00 AM