Today is World Malaria Day. Many of you already know this, perhaps you’ve already donated or advocated to your Members of Congress via a phone call or on Twitter. As I hide in my bedroom while my three young kids are forced to take a nap, I can’t help but reflect on my appreciation for people like you who have taken action to support programs that have prevented 1 billion cases of malaria and saved more than 7 million lives.
The progress made by the international community since 2000 is impressive by any standard in the fight to eliminate – and then eradicate – a disease from our planet, let alone the deadliest disease in history.
What’s similarly impressive is the commitment of the global community and the leadership displayed by the United States, both Republicans and Democrats alike. With multilateral programs like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund) and bilateral programs like the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the landscape of malaria looks vastly different than it did just two decades ago.
It’s heartbreaking to think we could go back to that time– a world in which one million people died every year due to malaria, a world in which a child died every thirty seconds from malaria. But the impending rainy season is darker this year because of another disease currently ravaging the world, COVID-19, which threatens to reverse our progress.
But this doesn’t have to happen. There’s still time to act. With swift action, we can ensure that lifesaving programs continue and are even stepped up in light of COVID-19. Last year alone, PMI protected 94 million people with long-lasting insecticide-treated nets – a critical, cost-effective tool in decreasing malaria cases. This year, those bed net distributions are in danger due to COVID-19. PMI is already working to adapt and respond, implementing new ways to get those much-needed tools to communities. Also last year, PMI trained over 30,000 health care workers in diagnosing malaria, and over 39,000 in clinical care. Many of these front-line workers will be looked on to help respond to COVID-19, while making certain the malaria cases do not surge out of control.
The investments PMI and the Global Fund make to strengthen health systems of their focus countries ensure that health workers and community members are better positioned to handle threats beyond malaria such as COVID-19. Distributing bed nets means fewer people will contract malaria, alleviating the burden on fragile health care systems. Early diagnosing of malaria – through critical tools such as rapid diagnostic tests – enable health workers to distinguish malaria from COVID-19 cases and helps free-up much-needed capacity. Continued support from the U.S. government and other international partners is the only way our world stays on the right path toward eliminating malaria for good.
As the clouds roll in and the rainy season begins, the scary reality we are on the precipice of today is the possibility of washing away two decades worth of progress. Please join us in taking action, raising your voice and staying committed to the fight to end malaria to ensure that programs such as WHO, PMI, and the Global Fund are able to continue providing life-saving bed nets, diagnostics, treatment, and case management to those who are very much in need.