Bringing an end to malaria

Bringing an end to malaria

Do you know the deadliest animal in the world? Other humans? Snakes, spiders or even some of the large predators? No. It's actually the mosquito. And out of all the many diseases that mosquitoes carry, malaria is possibly the biggest killer in human history.

In 2015 alone, the global death toll from malaria was a record 438,000. A child dies of malaria every two minutes, according to the World Health Organization. And each year, more than 200 million new cases of the disease are reported globally.

Although countries have dramatically reduced the total number of malaria cases and deaths since 2000, progress in recent years has stalled. Worryingly, in some countries, malaria is on the rise.

You may think that we have left the scourge of malaria behind us. Certainly, if you live in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or another urban area of Thailand, chances are that you believe malaria a thing of the past. But in fact, malaria is still endemic and a common disease in Southeast Asian countries, where millions of people are still at risk every year.

What's more, we are now facing a new lethal threat: multidrug-resistant malaria has emerged in Thailand and our neighbouring countries. In Cambodia, 4 out of 6 antimalarial medicines are no longer effective. This means we might soon have malaria strains that are immune to our frontline drugs.

According to public health experts, this is a race against the clock -- we must eliminate malaria before it becomes untreatable and we see a lot of new deaths.

So, what's the recipe for ending malaria? Key ingredients include political will, funding and partnerships.

In Thailand, we have come along way in the fight against malaria. In 1988, researchers estimate that we had 350,000 cases. Today that number is down to 10,000, representing a 97% reduction. Successive governments have kept the pressure on malaria, and slowly but surely, pushed it farther and farther out from densely populated areas.

But malaria knows no borders. If we get rid of malaria here, it could still seep back in from neighbouring countries. The only way to root out malaria is through collaboration with our neighbours.

Since 2014, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- an international financing institution -- has committed over US$350 million for malaria programmes, regional collaboration and innovations in the countries surrounding the Mekong.

Why is the Global Fund investing so much money? The answer is simple: the threat of drug-resistant malaria in our country and region is too grave to ignore. We must end this disease.

On October 10, world leaders came together at the Global Fund’s 6th replenishment conference in Lyon, France. The Global Fund mobilized an unprecedented US$14 billion for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programs for the next three years. These funds will save 16 million lives worldwide. We now have the chance to end this epidemic once and for all. But, we need more partners to step up. Here in Thailand, the Dhanin Tawee Chearavanont Foundation is doing just that. Over the next two years, the Foundation has committed US$2 million to support the Global Fund financed malaria program in Thailand.

Malaria affects our entire society so we all have a role to play. Politicians, support increases in the government's malaria budget. Fellow citizens, make your voices heard and demand action. Foundations and corporations, consider sharing resources and expertise with organisations fighting malaria.

Remember this year: 2030. That's the deadline we set to end malaria in Thailand and in whole of Asia Pacific. Together, we will achieve a historical feat. Together, we will defeat malaria.

Clint Coo is chief operating officer of M2030 -- Defeating Malaria Together

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