Most people would agree that anyone dying from a mosquito bite in the twenty-first century is an absolute travesty.
Yet, until recently we were largely unable to prevent these deaths in large parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Things have changed.
New research by Christopher Murray and his colleagues at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (University of Washington) confirms that malaria control efforts have clearly been working and that most countries with a high malaria burden are seeing strong declines. We already knew that we are turning the ride against malaria but earlier studies have not shown the global impact of artemisinin-combination therapy (ACTs), an effective malaria treatment, to this extent.
Sifting through previously unexamined data and using a more exhaustive methodology, Murray and colleagues found that investments made by major funders such as the Global Fund have rapidly decreased the burden of malaria. However, the findings also show that not only is malaria declining more rapidly than previously thought, it is also a far bigger problem than estimated so far. The number of people who die annually of malaria is roughly double the current estimates by WHO. While young children still make up the majority of malaria deaths, adult deaths are much higher than formerly believed.
The implications for global health investments are clear. Malaria programs must target adults much more, not just mothers and children. Given that significantly more people are dying from malaria than was known to date, there also needs to be a substantial increase in health investments if global health goals are to be met.
The global economic crisis has led to pressures on international health spending at precisely the moment when we need to increase investments. If adequate resources are not raised, it will cast doubt on whether falls in malaria mortality can be built on or even sustained.
Increased investments in fighting malaria are more important now, at a time of financial crisis, than ever.