Far more deadly than the ongoing conflicts mobilizing the world, malaria has become a disease the world seems to be comfortable with.
In 2020, a total of 241 million cases of malaria were reported worldwide and 627,000 lives were lost due to malaria; an additional 69,000 deaths compared to 2019. In sub-Saharan Africa, which is plagued by other crises such as climate change and terrorism, the situation remains critical, as malaria burden is still unacceptably high.
With 94% of malaria cases detected in 2020, this region of the world is paying a heavy price.
It is true that major progress has been made in our countries over the last two decades thanks to the commitment of major players such as the WHO and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The involvement of the Global Fund has led to a significant reduction in new cases and deaths from malaria. As a result, more than 10 million malaria-related deaths have been prevented thanks to the Global Fund.
But make no mistake, let’s not see the forest for the threes! For today, malaria is still more deadly than the conflicts that are currently taking place and mobilizing the entire world. Every 60 seconds, a child under five dies of malaria in the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Worse still, the Covid 19 pandemic has significantly undermined malaria control efforts, with almost two-thirds of additional deaths resulting from disruptions in malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services during the pandemic. The fight against malaria is now at a critical juncture. Without immediate acceleration and scaling up of the response, the goals of the WHO Global Malaria Strategy 2016-2030 will not be met.
More than ever, countries that are seeing millions of their able-bodied people die, need a strong political commitment at the global level to stop the slaughter. Today, the fight against malaria needs a strong commitment of every political leader, but also the private sector in all the countries where the epidemic is taking its toll.
This movement is already underway in Benin and in several sub-Saharan African countries where the private sector is becoming an important leverage for financing the fight against malaria through the “Zero Malaria Businesses Leadership Initiative”. Benin’s parliamentarians also made a strong commitment by obtaining a considerable increase in the budgetary counterpart for malaria funding in 2023 from the Beninese government. But all these efforts may be a drop in the ocean if they are not backed up at the global level. To this end, the 7th Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, which is currently taking place take in the United States, is a crucial step in the fight against malaria.
There is an urgent need for contributing countries to follow in the footsteps of the host country (the United States), which announced a pledge that is expected to reach 30% of the $18 billion the Global Fund needs to effectively fight AIDS, malaria, and TB over the next three years.
Malaria must not become an epidemic that the world is comfortable with. As UN General Secretary António Guterres said, “Malaria can be beaten” with strong political commitment, adequate investment, and the right mix of strategies.
It is now or never if we want to beat malaria.
By the Honourable Aké Natondé, Member of the National Assembly of Benin and Chairman of the Committee on Education, Culture, Employment and Social Affairs