Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In malaria prevention, positive change in Mali, and elsewhere

WASHINGTON, DC — As a young development worker for Lutheran World Relief in Mali 20 years ago, I engaged in high-risk behavior occasionally. In my extended journeys around the country, I slept in villages from the Sahara Desert in the north to the Niger River Delta and Dogon Country in the center to the southern savanna, but rarely with a mosquito net hanging over me, and certainly not an insecticide-treated one.

I paid for my sins: I was struck down by malaria after an overnight stay in a southern Mali village in the middle of the rainy season. Malaria made me feel so awful, so lethargic, that I thought I might die and worse, I didn’t much care. In those days, mosquito nets were hard to come by, especially if you were a poor, rural Malian. And most Malians are poor and rural.

But a lot has changed in 20 years. Today, a new report unveiled at the National Press Club shows that Mali is an important part of a pan-African malaria success story. In 2000, there were an estimated 22,663 malaria deaths among children 1 to 59 months in Mali. From 2001 to 2010, the global investment in malaria control prevented 65,065 malaria deaths, the most of any of the 34 malaria endemic countries in Africa.

And Mali is only one piece of an even bigger story: The new report "Saving Lives with Malaria Control: Counting Down to the Millennium Development Goals" — authored by Tulane University, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and PATH and published today by Roll Back Malaria — reveals that the lives of almost three quarters of a million children in these 34 countries were saved in the last 10 years through the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and other preventive measures.

Most importantly, the report estimates that an additional 3 million lives could be saved by 2015 if the world continues to increase investment in tackling the disease.

This should provide a clarion call for world leaders who gather in New York next week for the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals as they seek ways to meet the eight goals in the five years remaining in the 15-year timeline of the MDGs.

The report shows clearly what is required: U.S. and other international donors should just keep investing in malaria control the way they have been doing the last few years, and 3 million more lives could be saved in the next five years.

Here is the press release on the report.

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