Once one of the world’s biggest killers, malaria’s global burden is now much reduced. Notwithstanding remarkable progress, 200 million people succumb the disease each year. In our region over two billion people live in settings where the risk of malaria persists.
Despite these alarming numbers, the campaign against malaria is a global health success story. The Asia Pacific region achieved the World Health Assembly Goal reducing the number of cases and deaths between 2000 and 2015 by 75%. In that time, these intensive efforts averted over 100,000 malaria-related deaths.
Following such success, it may seem persuasive to turn our attention to other regional priorities and to shift resources to address other critical issues. History tells us that such a diversion of focus would be dangerously wrong. The nature of malaria means that even the most impressive gains are fragile. Previous success against the disease have been reversed by explosive malaria resurgence that could still potentially unravel decades of progress.
There is also growing understanding of the threat posed by the artemisinin-resistant malaria emerging in the region. Without urgent action, the most important first-line treatment for malaria could become ineffective within years, potentially triggering a devastating rise in malaria prevalence and mortality, as well as significant productivity losses.
Experts agree the best strategy to tackle malaria – and rising drug resistance – is to end it for good, and by strengthening health systems so they are better able to manage the disease – along with other health threats.