The world could be rid of malaria by 2050, a new report says, but not without global cooperation.
The report, commissioned by The Lancet medical journal, states that with more funding, innovation, and international collaboration, eradicating malaria in the next 30 years is an “ambitious,” but “achievable” goal.
“For too long, malaria eradication has been a distant dream, but now we have evidence that malaria can and should be eradicated by 2050,” Richard Feachem, director of the Global Health Group at the University of California and co-chair of the review, said.
Malaria is a tropical disease — primarily affecting countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America — that is caused by a parasite and carried by mosquitoes. Infected people usually present flu-like symptoms, and though it can be deadly, the disease is considered easily treatable and preventable with drug therapy.
In 2017, 219 million people contracted the disease. Approximately 435,000 people worldwide died of malaria in 2017, most of them were babies and children from the most impoverished countries in Africa where treatment and medical care can be difficult to access. Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, specifically, saw some of the highest numbers of malaria-related fatalities.
“If we double down on ending malaria now, the world will reap massive social, humanitarian and economic benefits, and save millions of people from needlessly dying from mosquito bites,” Martin Edlund, CEO of the nonprofit Malaria No More, said in a statement.
However, the new report — co-authored by 41 experts in science, economics, and health policy — directly contradicts a malaria review published by the World Health Organization, in which experts concluded that it was not possible for malaria to be eradicated in the near future.
“Even with our most optimistic scenarios and projections, we face an unavoidable fact: using current tools, we will still have 11 million cases of malaria in Africa in 2050,” the WHO report says. “In these circumstances, it is impossible to either set a target date for malaria eradication, formulate a reliable operational plan for malaria eradication or to give it a price tag,” the report continues, cautioning against spending large amounts of funding on underdeveloped plans, particularly efforts to eradicate malaria have failed in the past.
Still, the co-authors of The Lancet report believe that setting a goal with a deadline will create a sense of urgency and purpose.
“We must ... challenge ourselves with ambitious targets and commit to the bold action needed to meet them,” Feachem said.
The experts believe that with international collaboration and targeted efforts, malaria can be eradicated in this lifetime. Feacham and his co-authors provided three suggestions for achieving the 2050 eradication goal laid out in the report. These suggestions include: using more effective implementation of current weapons against the disease, such as bednets, medicines, and insecticides; developing better treatments like vaccines; and investing additional $2 billion in international funding to combat the disease every year.
Feacham also said that leadership and accountability at all levels of government, increased contributions from private organizations and individuals, and improved management in malaria control programs will play an important role in increasing the chances of eradicating the disease in the next three decades.
“If we, humankind, were to take on this challenge and eradicate malaria by 2050, it would be an achievement of historic proportions.There would be nothing quite like it,” Feachem said.