Imagine you had a time machine and could fast-forward to 2040. What amazing progress would you hope to see? Hoverboards? Tourist trips to the moon? 3D printed food? That would all be very exciting.
Personally, I would simply love to see this map showing the world is free from malaria.
Malaria is one of the most deadly and devastating diseases in human history. It is caused by parasites spread by mosquito bites. It can be fatal and even in uncomplicated cases, causes high fever, chills, flu-like symptoms, and severe anemia. Malaria is especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children.
The problem is that if we don’t act now the map is going to look more like this:
Ironically, there’s been such impressive progress on malaria since the turn of the century that some people think the job is already done. It’s not. In fact, it’s worse than that: In the last two years, we’ve started to go backwards. Global investment has plateaued, progress has stalled, and cases are on the rise again.
Here’s what the map looked like in 2015:
All that yellow highlights the nearly 100 countries, covering about half the globe, where malaria is transmitted. In 2015, there were 211 million cases of malaria worldwide. Alarmingly, the following year, the total number of cases was 216 million.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Thanks to multi-national efforts like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and bilateral programs from the US and UK, the situation is already way better than it was even in 2000. Since then, the number of deaths from malaria have fallen by half, and the case count has dropped by 60 percent.
In fact, the fight against malaria is one of the biggest public health successes of the 21st century.
All this proves that progress is possible, and that eliminating malaria by 2040 is no pipe dream. But the last two years show that progress is not inevitable.
So, what will it take to get back on track and wipe malaria off the face of the Earth for good? In a word: innovation. Innovation is indispensable to progress.
Specifically for malaria, we’ll need breakthroughs that help to stop or slow transmission, such as a next-generation vaccine or longer-lasting insecticides.
We’ll need new drugs to supplement or replace those that are no longer as effective because the parasite has built up resistance to them.
And we’ll need treatments that can rapidly cure the types of malaria which remain dormant in the body but can reactivate and cause attacks — or relapses — after months or years without symptoms.
Together with data analysis that can help us get these new tools to the right people, in the right places, at the right time, we can save lives, strengthen economies and societies in many poor countries, and put the world on the path to disease eradication.
For that, we are going to need to invest substantially in global health research and development.
Just as important, we’ll need political and public will. That is, more governments everywhere committed to development, and more partners holding governments to account for their commitments.
Our foundation’s Goalkeepers initiative is part of this effort to drive awareness, action and accountability on the most urgent global health issues. And when it comes to malaria we are at a pivotal moment.
We know what we need to do to reach our goal. But delaying the introduction of just one new tool will set us back decades. That means another generation born into a life where they’ll be at risk from this debilitating and deadly disease. It means millions more lives lost.
This is not the moment to pull back, but to push forward.
That’s the message I’ll be taking to some of the world’s most innovative thinkers and influential leaders in Davos this week. Because together, we can turn the promise of a malaria-free world from a map on a page into a reality.