What can $200M buy in the fight to eradicate malaria?

A blood is collected for malaria test. If approved by the Congress, U.S. President Barack Obama's $200-million budget request to fight malaria would bring the President's Malaria Initiative's budget to $874 million for the next fiscal year. Photo by: Richard Nyberg / USAID / CC BY-NC

U.S. President Barack Obama delighted malaria fighters with his State of the Union pledge to ask the Congress for more money to help end the disease. Now the administration has released its budget request — and more details about what it will do with an extra $200 million.

The additional funding would bring the President’s Malaria Initiative budget to $874 million for the next fiscal year, roughly a 30 percent increase over fiscal 2016. So what can $200 million buy you?

According to the administration, if Congress agrees to appropriate and shift funding as Obama requested last week, PMI would be able to: open programs in three new countries in West Africa — Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Cameroon — and expand its Burkina Faso program to the entire country; “accelerate elimination efforts” in Cambodia and Zambia; procure 13.7 million insecticide treated bed nets; and “accelerate research, development and evaluation of new malaria tools focused on better diagnostics, vector control and medicines.”

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The $200 million request includes $71 million in “new money” and $129 million repurposed from the remaining pool of Ebola emergency funding Congress supplied last year. The administration could face an uphill battle explaining why “extra” money should be spent on another disease, at the same time seeking another $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus in the U.S. and internationally.

The administration’s willingness to “elevate the political and diplomatic game” and use the international bully pulpit to champion malaria eradication as a global health priority is just as important as the number of additional dollars, according to Josh Blumenfeld, managing director of Malaria No More.

“You could spend $100 million on a program and achieve a huge amount of results, and if you didn’t talk about it to anybody … your results would probably stop there,” Blumenfeld said.

For his part, Obama — or at least his communications team — took to Twitter Monday to back up the request with a snapshot of what’s been achieved in the fight to end a disease that kills upwards of half a million people each year.

President Barack Obama lauds U.S. leadership towards malaria eradication. via Twitter.

“We were really thrilled this was in the State of the Union, because for an American president there’s no greater bully pulpit for either the American public, the Congress, or frankly the world. … This is at the very epicenter of American politics now,” Blumenfield said.

This week Secretary of State John Kerry will testify in multiple hearings on Capitol Hill to defend the president’s budget request. Republican lawmakers have largely condemned the proposed spending plan and some have vowed not to consider it at all.

The Roll Back Malaria Action Plan estimates that eradicating malaria would cost $5.9 billion per year from 2011 to 2020. Despite the hefty price tag, malaria interventions are often regarded as a “best buy” in global health, an area where relatively small investments can yield relatively big results.

Malaria efforts have enjoyed relatively strong bipartisan support. Advocates for this funding bump can only hope it’s strong enough.

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.