Experts call for focus on social determinants to bolster malaria response
Geneva – A global coalition of experts called last week for a broader response to malaria and expanded work to address the social and environmental factors that perpetuate it, saying the disease impedes efforts to tackle poverty and advance both economic and human development.
Although malaria is one of today’s – and history’s – great health challenges, the factors that make people vulnerable to it lie to a great extent beyond the health sector, such as housing, education, urban planning, agriculture, transport and mining, all contribute to make people more or less vulnerable to infection.
Experts from government, academia, civil society, international financing institutions, UN organizations and the private sector were convened in Geneva by Roll Back Malaria (RBM) and the United Nations Development Programme to assess what contribution they could make in expanding the fight against malaria beyond the health sector. The experts developed an Action Framework, which will be reflected in the discussions on the Sustainable Development Goals, the next Global Malaria Action Plan for 2016-2025 and national malaria strategies.
“In addition to its direct impact on the health of millions worldwide, malaria also impacts on the economy and development in general,” said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo Traoré, Executive Director of the RBM Partnership. “In Africa alone, malaria related-illnesses and mortality cost the economy at least US$12 billion per year. So by investing in malaria we are investing in the fight against poverty and in socio-economic development.”
“It was not through bed nets and better medicine alone that Northern Europe and North America eliminated endemic malaria,” noted Rebecca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator in the opening. “It was also through progress on broader health determinants – such as improved living conditions, declines in household size, smarter agricultural practices, and more robust health systems – which helped to ensure that malaria transmission was curbed and treatment reached those who needed it.”
Malaria control interventions also accelerate progress in other health and development goals, including reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty, and improving maternal and child health.
Experts highlighted the need to strengthen the leadership of the Ministers of Health in bringing malaria onto the agenda of other sectors through the development of robust economic business cases.
Fifty countries have successfully eliminated malaria since 1948. During the past decade alone a majority of malaria-endemic countries have managed to reduce their malaria burden. While coverage with vector control interventions increased substantially in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half of all households now own at least one insecticide-treated bed net, a more robust effort that integrates all relevant development sectors will enable malaria to be controlled and eliminated in a sustainable manner.
Globally, an estimated 3.3 billion people are at risk of malaria, with populations living in sub-Saharan Africa having the highest risk of acquiring the disease: 80% of cases and 90% of deaths are estimated to occur in the WHO African region. Children under five years of age and pregnant women are most severely affected.
Malaria is a disease associated with lack of socio-economic development, poverty, marginalization, and exploitation. It is widely considered as an obstacle to economic development.
To combat the disease consistently, malaria-endemic countries and their development partners agreed to the 2008 Global Malaria Action Plan (GMAP), which aims at reducing malaria death to near zero, at reducing cases by 75%, and at eliminating the disease in 10 new countries by 2015. The plan will be revised for the period of 2016 - 2025.
With an allocation of US$6.7 billion for the global malaria response over three years, at least 3 million lives can be saved for the period 2012-2015.
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