On World Malaria Day, we must celebrate our progress. New malaria cases fell by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015 worldwide, and malaria death rates fell by 29 percent in the same period. Yet though malaria is preventable and treatable – it is still claiming too many lives around the world.
I speak often about my personal experiences with malaria in the field as a young public health officer because it had such a profound impact on my life and my work. Soon after joining the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia, I was part of the team to respond to a malaria outbreak. I not only experienced the effects of malaria first hand when I was infected myself, I observed the malaria epidemic’s shocking health effects on adults and children and how it crippled communities and caused economic hardship. Those were the moments in which I committed my life to addressing the health needs of people in Ethiopia and around the world, and particularly vulnerable groups and the otherwise marginalized. Soon after, I pursued a doctorate in community health, conducting community-based, operational and implementation research and looking for ways to better address malaria. Much of my work was rooted deeply in community needs and focused on the community engagement necessary to prevent malaria in Ethiopia and elsewhere.
Prevention and community engagement then became fundamental tenants of my work as Minister of Health of Ethiopia, where I had the chance to implement the solutions I had studied and take revenge on the disease I had seen ravage so many communities. We designed a comprehensive malaria control strategy with ambitious targets to tackle the disease nation-wide. Through strong government commitment, we undertook the monumental task of distributing 22 million long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets over a two-year period. In doing so, we protected 50 million people at risk for malaria and increased bed net coverage from 6 to nearly 70 percent. We also reduced morbidity due to malaria by 75 percent and malaria deaths by more than 50 percent percent, and over the last 12 years there has been no major outbreak of malaria in Ethiopia.
Key to this work was our focus on prevention, and that is why I am pleased that on this World Malaria Day, WHO and its partners are focusing on prevention. We must continue to invest in prevention tools in order to put all countries on the path toward elimination. On 22nd May 2015, member states also recommitted to these efforts by adopting the Global Technical Strategy and Targets for Malaria 2016–2030. The five principles outlined in that document are what must guide our work forward – acceleration of efforts towards elimination; country ownership and leadership, with the involvement and participation of communities; improved surveillance, monitoring and evaluation; equity in access to health services; and innovation in tools and implementation approaches.
Defeating malaria is absolutely critical to ending poverty, improving the health of millions and enabling future generations to reach their full potential. Today, and every day, let us recommit to ending malaria for good.