Appreciating Many Years of Malaria Partnerships and Investment

wmd2013logo-sm.jpgWhile today it technically the sixth World Malaria Day, one should actually trace the origins back 13 years to the first Africa Malaria Day (AMD) in 2001, held to encourage progress based on the Africa malaria Summit in Abuja just one year before.  And since the Abuja summit and its resulting declaration were backed by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, which formed in 1998, one could say the world has 15 years to considering in judging progress in and plans for partner investments in ridding the world of malaria.

In 2001 organizers of Malaria Day events were encouraged to feature a ‘new’ medicine that WHO said could save 100,000 child healths annually in Africa. artimisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) drugs are now the front line treatment in most all endemic countries, and deaths have declined somewhat on the order of 400,000. At that time there was only one major manufacturer of ACTs. Investments by pharmaceutical companies in generic ACTs now means that there are at least nine companies that produce prequalified ACTs. What is needed is more indigenous African pharmaceutical companies approved to invest in ACT production.

logo_animated.gifThe first AMD stressed the risk of malaria to pregnant women and recommended widespread use of Intermittent Preventive Treatment in pregnancy (IPTp).  This recommendation has been adopted in countries with stable falciparum malaria transmission, but has lagged in terms of implementation, and coverage still lags below the 80% target set at the 2000 Abuja Summit.  There are missed opportunities to provide IPTp at antenatal clinics due to stock-outs, provider attitudes, and client beliefs. Weak health information systems mean that even when services are provided, reporting may not accurately reflect true coverage of IPTp.

In the meantime resistance is growing to sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP), the drug used for IPTp in part due to the inability or unwillingness of country drug authorities to curb its inappropriate use for case management.  WHO now recommends more that the original two IPTp doses and suggests that pregnant women get SP at each ANC visit after quickening.  In the meantime research is underway to find substitutes for SP.

The first AMD addressed the role of insecticide treated nets (ITNs) in helping halve the world’s malaria burden by 2010.  Major progress came in 2008 when the whole United Nations community and of course companies invested in net production got behind universal coverage. In addition the advent of the long lasting insecticide-treated net with insecticide infused in the fabric from point of production pointed the way to success.

These three core interventions – ACTs, IPTp and ITNs – have been strengthened with better diagnostics and a variety of other vector control measures, Hopes for a vaccine still remain a dream, though an achievable one.  While we have high expectations for eradication, we can see that some of the health systems challenges that thwarted the first malaria eradication effort are still with us including weak procurement and supply management, inadequate human resources and gaps in health information systems.

The foregoing implies that we need at least two forms of future investment in malaria. First is investment by governments in strengthening the health system that deliver malaria services. The second investment is in continued biomedical research in order to fend off resistance by mosquitoes and parasites and of course social research to address issues of behavior, adoption of innovations and program management practices. Let’s hope that when World Malaria Day 2014 rolls around, we can measure these increases investments.

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