A new strategy for combating malaria by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation describes tremendous progress and innovation battling the disease.
Malaria deaths have been reduced by half since 2000, with much credit going to the Gates family’s generosity and intense commitment to eradicating terrible diseases, saving untold lives and improving living conditions for many of the world’s poorest people. They’ve given more than $2.9 billion so far to the global malaria fight, spurring other contributions and invigorating research and policy efforts to eradicate this scourge.
But the new strategy also acknowledges that progress is stalling at a critical point.
Global funding has plateaued in recent years and malaria is creeping back, particularly in African countries where it’s most concentrated. A groundbreaking vaccine, developed with Seattle-based nonprofit PATH with Gates support, is now being piloted but more development is needed before such vaccines are a silver bullet. Meanwhile, key weapons in the malaria battle are weakening, with the parasite developing resistance to insecticides and currently available treatments.
While deaths have declined over two decades, the number of malaria cases rose to 219 million in 2017, up from 217 million the year before, according to the World Health Organization’s latest malaria report. Malaria killed an estimated 435,000 people in 2017, including 266,000 children age 5 or younger.
The foundation now aims to bring more speed and precision to the malaria response, improving systems for tracking its spread and optimizing delivery of treatments and preventive measures. This will be done by further improving surveillance and data collection, and the speed at which information is shared, to make the most of limited resources.
It also plans to accelerate research into “transformational endgame tools, acknowledging that what we have today won’t get us to eradication,” according to the strategy statement. One intriguing front is using gene editing to introduce malaria-resistant mosquitoes and harness evolution.
This is audacious philanthropy on a breathtaking scale but it’s still not enough.
Compassionate nations led by the United States still provide most funding to eradicate malaria and other terrible diseases that cause massive suffering and retard progress in the developing world.
Nations and major charities are this year replenishing the Global Fund, founded in 2002 to end the epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030. It needs at least $14 billion to maintain progress, reduce mortality rates by half and save an estimated 16 million lives by 2023.
President Donald Trump proposed drastic cuts to foreign aid and diplomacy for three years in a row, including a 23 percent cut proposed last month to the 2020 budget, drawing bipartisan ire. Congress should, for a third time, restore funding and ensure further U.S. commitment to the Global Fund.
This is one of the best investments the U.S. can make abroad. Improving global health reduces poverty and increases productivity in poor countries, making them less fertile for extremism. Their economic growth increases world trade, which benefits the U.S. and Washington state in particular.
Reducing U.S. contributions at this critical juncture would also waste billions invested in malaria eradication since 2001. The going is getting tough and that’s when the strongest country needs to step up, not reduce its commitment by a fourth.
The U.S. has long been the largest public supporter of the Global Fund and the Gates Foundation has been the largest private contributor.
That means all Americans are deeply invested, alongside the couple from Medina, in maintaining progress and helping developing countries become safer, healthier and more productive.