Ronnie is a five year old girl living in Papua, New Guinea. Sick with malaria and convulsing, her parents traveled over an hour to get to the nearest hospital. Fortunately for Ronnie, the doctor was successful in treating her, but children with malaria can die quickly once convulsions start.
It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, a five year old still risks death from a simple mosquito bite. Unfortunately, Ronnie’s story is far too common, not only in Papua — where more than 90% of the population is at high risk for malaria infection, but across sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and South America as well.
You can watch Ronnie’s story here:
Deaths from malaria may be severely underestimated worldwide according to a study published earlier this year in The Lancet. As Care2′s Anna Klenke reported, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 655,000 malaria deaths worldwide for 2010, but the Lancet study suggests that 1.24 million people may have actually died from malaria that year.
The good news is that global malaria prevention has scaled up over the past decade, and death rates have fallen by a third, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of cases occur, and particularly since organizations like The Global Fund have invested in treatment and prevention strategies.
The Global Fund in fact, provides 65% of funding to fight malaria worldwide. Other programs, such as the United Nations Foundation’s “Nothing But Nets” campaign, which has raised millions of dollars since its inception in 2006 to provide bed nets to those who need them most, are also helping the fight. Bed nets, which are treated with insecticide and cover people while they sleep, have been one of the most effective preventative measures against malaria. Through Global Fund-supported programs, 230 million bed nets have been distributed to protect families against the disease.
“In the past ten years, increased investment in malaria prevention and control has saved more than a million lives,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General in a statement for World Malaria Day, which is today. “This is a tremendous achievement. But we are still far from achieving universal access to life-saving malaria interventions.”
Part of the issue of course is the need to ensure bed nets are being used properly. Ronnie became infected because her family didn’t use their bed net – they chose to sleep outside where it was cooler. Educating families about how to use the nets and other measures they can take to protect themselves is key. Also key is providing access to both life-saving and cost-effective interventions.
World Malaria Day provides a good opportunity to look at, and think about priorities in eradicating this totally preventable disease. “Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria” is this year’s World Malaria Day theme. It’s vital to keep the momentum going. There’s a direct correlation between the funding and prevention.
“Until countries are able to test, treat, and report every malaria case, we will never defeat this disease,” said Dr. Chan, who is in Namibia for World Malaria Day this year. “We need strong and sustained political commitment from all countries where malaria is endemic, and from the global health community, to see this fight through to the end.”
Malaria is one of the Millennium Development Goals that actually can be met by 2015, the question that remains is whether or not world leaders choose to keep malaria prevention a priority. Considering most malaria deaths occur in children under the age of five, the future really does depend on it.
Photo credit: The Global Fund / John Rae