Opinion: Combatting the deadliest animal on Earth

A municipal worker fumigates a slum area to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in Mumbai, India. Photo by: REUTERS / Shailesh Andrade

You may be surprised to learn that the world’s deadliest animal clocks in at just five millimeters long.

In 2017, roughly 435,000 people died of malaria, a parasitic disease that is spread by mosquitoes. Imagine a city the size of Tampa or New Orleans suddenly vanishing off the map at the hands of a tiny insect.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but behind those figures are real people who will be hurt by this policy.

After 10 years of steady declines, malaria cases are back on the rise. This isn’t just concerning, it is a crisis — and one that requires an immediate global response. Unfortunately, after 15 years of strong U.S. support to combat this disease, President Donald Trump has proposed policies that would only serve to make malaria-related deaths rise. That’s why as we prepare to mark World Malaria Day — Thursday, April 25 — we must recommit to fighting preventable disease by supporting life-saving global health programs such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria that are working to combat them.

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Launched in the early 2000s, the Global Fund is an innovative partnership that backs brave frontline nurses and doctors with the latest technology to help fight back against these killer diseases. Working in partnership with programs including the President’s Malaria Initiative and PEPFAR, the Global Fund has helped slash deaths from AIDS, TB and malaria by a third and has helped save 27 million lives over its first 15 years in operation.

In the United States, support for the Global Fund has been a rare bipartisan issue that is worthy of celebration and continued investment. President George W. Bush was the very first contributor to the program and President Barack Obama built on the Global Fund’s track record of success. The Global Fund is the largest provider of anti-malaria support in the world, providing nearly 60% of all international financing for combating the disease.

Through the years, leaders on both sides of the aisle have put saving lives ahead of politics and the results speak for themselves. In 2017, U.S. taxpayers helped distribute over 62 million mosquito nets, provide 5.5 million people with antiretroviral treatment, and treat over 1.5 million people with TB through the country’s contribution and the domestic resources it leveraged. The progress we have made is both equally remarkable and fragile.

After over 15 years of strong U.S. support for the Global Fund, we’ve reached an impasse where President Trump appears ready to trade our hard-fought gains for a white flag of surrender. Last month, the White House proposed a budget that would drastically cut the U.S. historic contribution to the Global Fund from one-third to one-fourth. Instead of funding the Global Fund at $1.56 billion, the president’s budget proposes slashing funding to just $1.1 billion, which, if enacted, would have disastrous impact on the fight against preventable disease.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but behind those figures are real people who will be hurt by this policy. According to Friends of the Global Fight, President Trump’s cuts to the Global Fund would result in 24.4 million fewer mosquito nets being distributed to families at risk of contracting malaria and 2.6 million fewer households receiving indoor residual spraying to protect against malaria.

There are some who argue that by decreasing the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund, we will encourage burden sharing and inspire others to step up and fill the void. This is a misunderstanding of both the facts and the power of American leadership.  

One of the Global Fund’s best features is that it incentivizes recipient countries to increase their domestic spending on health. If a Global Fund recipient fails to uphold its end of the bargain, it doesn’t receive the full allotment of funds. Countries supported by the Global Fund have increased their own health investments by more than 40% over the past few years. Analysis by the Global Fund indicates that this trend will continue and will likely even increase over the next few years. Pulling back from the Global Fund now won’t inspire other donors to step up, they’re already doing so.

Pulling back now will signal retreat at a time when we should be doubling down on the progress we’ve already made.

The heartbreaking reality of malaria is that children — who through no fault of their own were born into a home without a bed net or a village without a hospital — are its biggest target. It’s within our collective power to stop this outrage, but getting there will require the United States and other donors to continue their full-throated support of programs including the Global Fund that are helping stop malaria one bite at a time.

The mosquito is the deadliest animal on Earth, however, only we have the power to end malaria once and for all.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Tom Hart

    Tom Hart is the North America executive director of The ONE Campaign, a policy and advocacy organization with millions of people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.