Mosquitoes keep me up at night.
As the global health director of a large multi-national corporation, our employees are faced with challenges posed by these tiniest of species and the diseases they carry. These days, I am concerned by news of the mosquito-borne Zika virus spreading rapidly across the Americas. While health officials can offer advice about the risks posed by Zika, we don't yet have sophisticated methods to diagnose it, halt its transmission or understand -- let alone prevent -- its potentially devastating health consequences, which can include severe birth defects.
I'm struck by how sharply this differs from another mosquito-borne disease: malaria.
The global health community has experience in malaria-endemic countries on how to protect people and communities. We have a deep understanding of the malaria parasite's biology and how it affects our health. We have tools that effectively prevent mosquito bites, detect the disease and swiftly kill the malaria parasite. And we've been able to translate scientific knowledge into impact. Over the past 15 years, as there has been a concerted global push to reduce malaria, deaths and severe illness due to the disease have dropped precipitately, by as much as 60 percent globally.
We are at a point in time, on this World Malaria Day, when it's no longer just hypothetical to think that malaria can be eradicated.
To be clear, malaria kills more than 400,000 people each year -- most of them young children -- which arguably makes the mosquito the deadliest species in the world.
However, malaria cases and deaths can be prevented if more people have access to lifesaving tools like medicines and bed nets, which are highly effective when trained health workers and proper infrastructure can deliver care where it is most needed.
A number of the medicines and other tools we use today to fight malaria were developed relatively recently, and were made possible by research partnerships involving private companies. To end malaria for good, we'll need another generation of innovation that stays a step ahead of the malaria parasite -- newer drugs, better insecticides and ideally a vaccine -- and novel ways to deliver these tools to the hardest to reach places.
It will also take the continuing commitment from governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs and corporations to ensure we build on the success to date. Pharmaceutical, biotech, logistics and telecommunications companies all have vital roles to play. As do companies like ExxonMobil that are on the front-lines of reducing the global burden of malaria when they protect their employees and surrounding communities. For example, our workplace health program provides malaria prevention tools and high-quality medical care, and we partner with national health programs to expand access to services outside our operations.
Private sector companies can help save lives by delivering proven solutions and supporting continued scientific innovation against the disease. Bringing new ideas from concept to scale is the private sector's expertise.
Investments to defeat malaria help protect our employees, build stronger communities and strengthen health systems that guard against other threats. They're good for everyone's bottom line.
As the world's attention turns to Zika, we mustn't lose sight of the important lessons to be learned from the fight against malaria that can be applied to all mosquito-borne diseases. The key to conquering malaria, Zika, yellow fever and West Nile Virus is ridding our communities and our homes of mosquitoes. No one sector can do this alone - but together, we can apply the best science with state-of-the-art delivery to reduce cases of these diseases.
Simply put, we have to stop allowing mosquitoes to keep us up at night.
Deena L. Buford, MD, MPH is the head of Medicine and Occupational Health for the Exxon Mobil Corporation.