Leaders challenge Commonwealth countries to halve malaria cases by 2023

A fumigation campaign against malaria and dengue in Loreto, Peru. Photo by: Yofre Morales Tapia / CESVI / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — On Wednesday government leaders, the private sector and NGOs will announce new commitments in the fight against malaria and call on the 53 Commonwealth nations to halve the number of malaria cases worldwide in the next five years. If achieved, this would prevent 350 million cases of malaria and save 650,000 lives, according to estimates by the World Health Organization.

The Commonwealth and its citizens account for one-third of the world’s population, but more than half of all malaria cases and deaths globally. The announcement comes during the Malaria Summit London 2018, in the midst of the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting 2018, also in London. Commitments will include a range of new interventions across three categories: funding, innovation, and better data, with strong support from malaria-endemic countries and a special focus on refugees and internally displaced people.

“One of the things we faced with organizing this summit was to create a breadth of solutions — because that’s what’s needed — and not a magic bullet,” James Whiting, CEO of Malaria No More UK, one of the summit organizers, told Devex.

Praising large commitments from the U.K. government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Whiting said he believed “some of the less eye-catching commitments around innovative drugs and insecticides” that will accompany those pledges represent “a huge milestone.”

On Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May committed to contributing 100 million pounds to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which the private sector will match — to fund 26 million mosquito nets and ensure 5 million households are reached with indoor spraying. Additionally, the Global Fund is set to announce commitments totaling $2 billion from 46 countries affected by malaria between 2018-20. The UK also announced a new malaria program in Nigeria worth £50 million which will run until 2024, as well as £9.2 million of new research funding to develop new triple artemisinin combination treatments.

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will invest an additional $1 billion through 2023 to fund research and development efforts and reduce the burden of the disease. The Gates Foundation also announced 50 million pounds in funding toward the private sector’s match of the U.K.’s commitment to the Global Fund.

Notably, the new package is powered in large part by malaria-endemic countries and institutions committed to ending the disease, which kills more than 445,000 people every year, mostly pregnant women and children under the age of 5. With more than 90 percent of Commonwealth citizens living in malaria-endemic countries, experts saw this strong buy-in from developing countries as a promising sign. Uganda, for example, will commit to establishing a dedicated malaria fund — the Presidential Malaria Fund Uganda — to help mobilize an additional $785 million by 2020 to accelerate national progress against malaria.

“It’s so important politically, I think, as much as anything else, for those donor countries to see that malaria-endemic countries are prioritizing funding for the malaria campaign,” Whiting told Devex. "[This is] for the very obvious reason of, if you speak to any parliamentarian, to answer the very simple question of, ‘If they’re not prioritizing it, why should we?’ And I think in this day and age in the U.S. and U.K. in particular, I think it’s really important that we’re able to answer that question.”

He continued, “those countries are really pitching in and really taking significant responsibility for [tackling] malaria in their own countries and prioritizing it,” adding that these gestures are “of massive importance” for the Global Fund replenishment next year.

Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, board chair of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, added that “strong leadership and investment within malaria-affected countries is fundamental. A commitment by leaders to halve malaria in the Commonwealth would help drive dramatic progress in the next five years, putting the world back on track to end malaria for good.”

Wednesday’s announcements will also see a special emphasis on the need to diagnose and treat malaria among refugees and internally displaced populations. For example, the United Nations Foundation’s “Nothing But Nets” campaign will commit to raising and providing U.N. partners with at least $5 million by the end of 2020 to help protect malaria-vulnerable populations including refugees, IDPs, and marginalized indigenous communities.

Whiting added that the migrant crisis is creating new challenges for the fight to end malaria, and told Devex that “in many places where you find war and displacement, malaria thrives.”

“Sarah Kline, who’s currently working with the WHO in Bangladesh, sent me an email this morning saying how frightened they are by the forthcoming rains and what that’s going to mean in terms of malaria among the 650,000 Rohingya refugees — and we’ve already seen that in Yemen, Burundi, and Northern Nigeria.”

Beyond the old tools

Malaria and those afflicted with it continue to evolve and develop resistance against vaccines, nets, and other interventions, and last year for the first time in a decade the number of global malaria cases increased. As a result, the anti-malaria community is increasingly calling on the private sector to innovate and provide new resources for research and development.

Wednesday’s package includes a new 175 million pound commitment from GlaxoSmithKline, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies creating and producing antimalarials, toward its research and development efforts, including toward delivering a new single dose treatment for relapsing malaria. GSK has also committed to piloting implementation of the world’s first malaria vaccine, all on a not-for-profit basis.

Novartis will also invest more than $100 million through 2023 to advance research and development of next-generation treatments to combat emerging anti-malarial drug resistance, including global clinical trials for two new malaria drugs.

Finally, Wednesday’s summit will see a strong showing from five of the leading crop protection companies, including BASF, Bayer, Mitsui Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical Company, and Syngenta, who will launch ZERO by 40, a joint initiative supported by the Innovative Vector Control Consortium and the Gates Foundation to accelerate development of “innovative vector control tools and extend their commitments to help end malaria for good,” according to a statement.

A data gap

Additionally, a number of countries will create new alliances in an effort to better share data about malaria incidence and resistance. The African Leaders Malaria Alliance and the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance will commit Wednesday “to promoting regional and national malaria progress tracking mechanisms, allowing leaders to easily see and respond to progress and challenges,” although little is known about how and where these tracking mechanisms will function.

Another commitment will come from the new Visualize No Malaria Initiative, backed by eight leading technology companies, which will commit $2.6 million in cash and in-kind resources to expand its work in southern Africa, “enabling timely visual analytics for country-level officials and health workers to support malaria elimination planning and response,” according to a press release.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.