There is certainly much to celebrate on World Malaria Day. Many countries with ongoing malaria transmission have reduced their disease burden significantly. The latest estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that between 2010 and 2015, the global rate of new malaria cases fell by 21%.

Malaria death rates fell by 29% between 2010 and 2015.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is heavily concentrated, a concerted effort to reach the most vulnerable groups is bearing fruit. Since 2010, there has been sharp increase across the region in malaria diagnostic testing for children. Access to preventive treatment for pregnant women has increased five-fold.

But our work is incomplete. In 2015 alone, the global tally of malaria reached 212 million cases and 429,000 deaths. Too many people still lack access to the arsenal of effective, WHO-recommended tools that prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. This is particularly true in low-income countries with a high malaria burden.

This year, as we commemorate World Malaria Day, WHO is placing a special focus on prevention, a critical strategy for saving lives and accelerating progress in the global malaria fight. The organization is calling on all countries and their development partners to CLOSE THE GAP in access to proven prevention tools, including long-lasting insecticidal nets, indoor spraying of insecticides and preventive therapies for vulnerable groups.

With the required resources and all partners united, we can transform our common vision of a malaria-free world into a shared reality.


Q&A:

Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme

 

What are the main methods for preventing malaria?

"Two of the most effective tools we have to prevent malaria are long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS) of insecticides. Sleeping under a mosquito net every night provides protection against  mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Spraying insecticides on the inside walls of homes is another way to rapidly reduce malaria transmission. Many countries have successfully used these tools to dramatically drive down their malaria burden.

"We are also seeing more countries adopt preventive therapies to protect those most vulnerable to the disease: pregnant women, infants and children under the age of five living in Africa. These medicines are safe and cost-effective, and they are saving lives."

How effective are malaria prevention strategies?

"Malaria prevention strategies are incredibly effective.  We’ve seen unprecedented progress in the fight against malaria over the last 15 years, much of it due to improved access to core malaria prevention tools. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 663 million malaria cases have been averted since 2001 as a direct result of expanded access to nets, indoor spraying with insecticides and artemisinin-based combination therapies. Nets have had, by far, the greatest impact.

"The ultimate goal is, of course, to provide universal access to these and other malaria control tools. Currently, about 43% of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to nets and indoor spraying, the two primary vector control tools recommended by WHO. This gap must be urgently addressed."

What are the global targets for fighting malaria?

"Our work is guided by the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 (GTS), which provides a framework for all countries to control and eliminate malaria. Near-term targets set by the GTS call for a 40% reduction in malaria cases and deaths by 2020, and for malaria to be eliminated in an additional 10 countries. These goals are very ambitious, but they can be achieved through improved access to malaria prevention, diagnostics and treatment."

What more needs to be done?

"One of the top priorities for the WHO Global Malaria Programme is to close gaps in access to proven malaria prevention, diagnostic and treatment tools. How can we do this? Increased funding is certainly needed to make these tools more widely available, and to develop and deploy new ones. But we also need to work on improving efficiency and optimizing how we use the tools that are currently available.

"Identifying and addressing coverage gaps will help speed progress towards a vision we all share: a world free from malaria."