Skip to main content

Halfway to victory over malaria

By Martin Edlund
updated 10:43 AM EST, Wed December 11, 2013
Access to tools such as mosquito nets is helping the fight against malaria make remarkable progress, Martin Edlund says.
Access to tools such as mosquito nets is helping the fight against malaria make remarkable progress, Martin Edlund says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Martin Edlund: New report finds impressive progress against malaria
  • Rate of death among children under 5 has been cut in half, he says
  • Edlund says new diagnostic and treatment options are key weapons in the fight
  • He says stepped-up American aid, from Bush and Obama, has played a key role

Editor's note: Martin Edlund is a founding member and CEO of Malaria No More, an organization committed to ending deaths from malaria by engaging leaders, rallying the public and delivering lifesaving tools and health education to families across Africa.

(CNN) -- Progress against global diseases is typically slow, incremental and hard-won. But there are moments -- such as Wednesday's release of the World Health Organization's World Malaria Report -- when the cumulative effort of dozens of nations, millions of people and billions of dollars adds up to a true breakthrough.

With the new report, we have turned a corner in the malaria fight. We have reduced the rate of deaths from malaria among children under 5 by 51% from 2000 to 2012 -- halfway to our goal of ending death by mosquito bite. For the first time, the number of children dying from this preventable and treatable disease fell below half a million.

Progress against malaria is responsible for fully 20% of the reduction in child mortality since 2000. Malaria control has saved 3.3 million lives since 2000 -- 3 million of them children under 5.

Martin Edlund
Martin Edlund

This progress stands out as one of the great success stories in global health, even in human history. It's especially impressive when you consider that malaria has been with us since the dawn of man and, by some accounts, has killed more people than any other cause in human history: more than war, famine or any other disease.

Despite today's progress, malaria remains one of the biggest impediments to saving lives, improving health and unlocking human potential in much of the developing world. It threatens 3.4 billion people -- roughly half the globe -- and is a leading cause of school and work absenteeism in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria literally sucks the lifeblood (energy, livelihood and productivity) from the African continent.

I often compare the malaria fight to the moonshot. Both are human milestones, measures of our progress as a species and a society. And both were made possible by U.S. vision and leadership. The seeds of today's progress were sown under President George W. Bush with the launch of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2002 and the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative in 2005.

Finding a cure for malaria
Drugmaker seeks malaria vaccine OK

These efforts have accelerated under President Barack Obama, who has expanded the initiative and recently committed to provide $1 to the Global Fund for every $2 contributed by the rest of the world, up to $5 billion by 2016. These investments are paying off, not only in children's lives saved but also in promoting stable, productive nations by keeping children in school, workers at their jobs and families financially secure.

As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said, "fighting malaria is not only the right thing to do, it's also the smart thing."

Much of the progress to date comes from expanded access to simple tools such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and we must maintain high levels of coverage. But how do we end the other 50% of child deaths? How do we ensure that no child dies from a mosquito bite and that we ultimately eradicate this disease from the planet? The answer comes down to three cheap, revolutionary tools.

The first is a rapid diagnostic test, or RDT. Until a few years ago, there was no practical way to get a timely, accurate diagnosis for malaria. If someone thought they might have malaria, they had to travel to a distant clinic that had an expensive microscope -- and a trained lab technician who would examine a drop of blood under a microscope -- and hope the doctor read it right.

Enter the RDT. This simple, 50-cent device tells you in a matter of minutes with 99% accuracy if you have the malaria parasite in your body. There are now 200 million of these tests deployed in Africa each year, and they're transforming the fight against malaria -- driving timely treatment and ensuring people who have other illnesses -- such as pneumonia or respiratory infection -- get the lifesaving care they need.

The second tool is malaria treatment: artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs. It costs less than $1 to deliver a full course of lifesaving treatment to a child in Africa. And the simple fact is: If a child with malaria gets this $1 worth of medicine in time, he or she will not die. At Malaria No More, we're helping to close the testing and treatment gaps in Africa through our new Power of One campaign, where every dollar provides a lifesaving test and treatment.

The third tool may surprise you: a mobile phone. There's a mobile revolution under way in Africa. By 2015, there'll be more than 1 billion mobile phones on the continent. They're not only transforming communication and commerce but also how we fight communicable disease.

Mobile is helping us solve a whole slew of problems in the malaria fight: address health facilities that have a shortage of lifesaving treatments by providing timely updates on stock levels, fight counterfeit drugs by enabling consumers to text a code to confirm a malaria treatment is authentic, expand the reach of health education to ensure people sleep under their mosquito nets and provide the real-time data on malaria cases that is the prerequisite for strategies to eliminate the disease.

These tools are helping us work faster, smarter and more cost effectively. With their help -- and continued investment -- we can write malaria into the history books.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Martin Edlund.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT