Asia and the Pacific's dream to eliminate malaria for good just got another step closer. Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has joined the End Malaria Council, [i] a committed group of senior leaders from government and business, co-chaired by Bill Gates. It is the latest demonstration of Australia’s leadership and commitment to securing the health of the region.
Following a ground-breaking ‘Malaria 2012’ conference hosted in Sydney, Australia has been a consistent champion for ending malaria, a disease that still kills over half a million people each year.
Both Minister Bishop, and Prime Minister Turnbull have pushed this issue with their peers, ensuring it remained on the annual agendas of numerous East Asia Summits. In 2014, Australia brokered establishment of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, leading to an extraordinary commitment by 18 Heads of Government to eliminate malaria completely in the region by 2030. Fast forward to 2018: we now have 20 leaders championing the cause and investing twice as much to get the job done.
Despite political progress, there is no place for complacency. Our frontline malaria medicine risks becoming ineffective. Just as core antibiotics are losing their punch, we are facing a similar emergency with antimalarials in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
Malaria in Asia Pacific is a disease of the rural poor. Where the road stops, malaria starts and the region counts over 2.1 billion people still at risk from this deadly disease. By mobilising support for elimination, Australia chose – in addition to representing economic interests – to speak up for the most vulnerable.
A region unable to tackle communicable diseases, is a region safe for no-one. Australia's leadership is mobilising both the money and the expertise to tackle malaria and at the same time prepare for other disease emergencies and threats.
In the single biggest aid announcement for years, the government just committed 300 million dollars for the new Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative. This has already mobilised a Health Security Corps, financing for game-changing health products, and expertise to get life-saving medicines to the last mile.
From Pakistan to Vanuatu, Australia’s Global Fund [ii] investments [220 million] are also increasingly helping to address not only HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. They are also supporting a standing army of community health workers able to detect and report malaria and other disease threats.
Bishop’s strategy is smart: By jointly deploying diplomacy and financing, Australia is punching above its weight. We are seeing every dollar from Australia mobilising significantly more; from the likes of the UK, the USA and, critically, the Asia Pacific countries themselves. Emerging donors like China are now getting in on the action.
Australia’s commitment to fight malaria continues with preparations for the first World Malaria Congress, which will be held in Melbourne in July 2018. This will help keep malaria elimination centre stage in our efforts to build a secure, healthy and prosperous region. Never has an Asia Pacific free of malaria by 2030 been so within reach.
[i] End Malaria Council (http://endmalariacouncil.org/): A committed group of leaders from global public and private sectors working alongside the RBM Partnership to End Malaria (http://rollbackmalaria.org).
[ii] Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (http://theglobalfund.org).