Remarkable progress, but long way to go to beating infectious diseases

By John Boozman 29 May 2015

Health workers check a baby before prescribing anti-malarial treatment in Angola. Globally, there has been a 48 percent global decline in malaria deaths, and mortality rates have fallen 58 percent among children under 5. But there is still a long way to go to eradicate the infectious disease. Photo by: Alison Bird / USAID / President’s Malaria Initiative

As we were reminded during last year’s Ebola outbreak, infectious diseases know no borders. That makes treatment and eradication of deadly contagious diseases a shared responsibility and a global priority.

It takes strong leadership — from local governments where outbreaks are a constant threat, to international coalitions working together — to fund, implement and track progress. It also takes strong leadership in the U.S. Congress because it is our responsibility to ensure U.S. foreign aid efforts are efficient and effective, and build long-term stability for families around the world.

One example of success in this area is our effort to combat malaria.

Malaria was eradicated in the U.S. some 50 years ago, but the fight to eliminate the disease abroad continues today. We are close to finally winning this battle.

U.S. efforts to eliminate the disease really took off with the President's Malaria Initiative. Between 2005 and 2013, PMI distributed over 80 million insecticide-treated nets, over 65 million rapid diagnosis tests, and over 185 million treatments, as well as protected over 17 million pregnant women with preventive drugs.

The U.S. also helps with important research and development. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helped eliminate malaria from the country in 1951 and continues to work with the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat malaria around the globe and prevent it from returning to the United States. The National Institutes of Health provide funding and expertise for research and strategies to fight the disease.

Even the Department of Defense has weighed in. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research studies malaria prevention and treatment to protect American military personnel deployed to malaria-endemic countries. Research in mosquito control as well as vaccine and drug development benefits all populations at risk. In addition, U.S. Navy facilities around the world study malaria interventions in the field and our Peace Corps volunteers bring malaria prevention activities directly to communities in more than a dozen countries in Africa as part of the "Stomp Out Malaria" Initiative.

All this lifesaving work is done in coordination with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which raises and invests almost $4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in countries and communities most in need. It’s a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases, and the U.S. plays an important role.

But the real question is, does it work? Is our money spent wisely, and are we getting results?

The answer is a resounding yes. From 2001 to 2011, more than 1 million people around the world who would have died from malaria were spared. Globally, there has been a 48 percent global decline in malaria deaths, and mortality rates have fallen 58 percent among children under 5. Diagnoses are quicker and medicines are more available and cost-effective. A full course of lifesaving malaria treatment costs just $1 and cures a child within three days. Insecticide- treated bed nets create a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when transmissions most often occur. Scientists and organizations around the world are working together to develop a vaccine and make sure it is available in the developing world.

While the U.S. plays a key role in both funding and influence, the portion of U.S. foreign assistance dedicated to health, poverty and humanitarian aid is just one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget. That’s why it is so important that these funds be directed to programs that work.

As a member of the Senate Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, as well as the founder and former co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, I support providing the tools and resources necessary to people around the globe in order to combat this infectious disease. We can be proud of the key role the U.S. has played in this effort.

However, we still have a long way to go. It bears repeating: 17,000 children still die every day mainly from preventable diseases.

We must work together, as a part of the global community, to ensure that no child should suffer and die from malaria, or any, preventable and curable disease.

In partnership with the U.N. Foundation and Fenton, Devex is examining the progress made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals and U.S. contributions to spur global progress in our special “#GlobalGoalsWork” series. Join the conversation using #GlobalGoalsWork.

About the author

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John Boozman

Sen. John Boozman, Republican from Arkansas, is serving his first term in the U.S. Senate. Before becoming a senator, he represented the 3rd District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives for five terms. Sen. Boozman serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. He is a member of the Senate Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases as well as the founder and former co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases.


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