Published: April 25th, 2023
25 April 2023
Technology offers new hope in the fight against malaria
As we mark World Malaria Day, Pacific Friends of Global Health has urged Australia and other wealthy nations to maintain political and financial commitment as new scientific breakthroughs offer fresh potential to save lives.
This year’s World Malaria Day falls on ANZAC Day. The mosquito-borne disease has taken a significant toll on Australian troops in three campaigns: Palestine in 1918, New Guinea in 1943 and Vietnam in 1968, where more than one per cent of troops were hospitalised per day in an epidemic in 1968.
In recent years, progress against malaria has stalled as the COVID pandemic diverted resources and disrupted medical systems. The 2022 World Malaria Report recorded 619,000 deaths, down only slightly from the 625,000 in the prior year. Asia and the Pacific recorded 9,000 deaths, the same as the year prior. A child still dies every minute from malaria.
Despite recent stalled progress, the global death toll from Malaria has declined markedly in the last two decades from the 847,000 deaths recorded in 2002. In Asia Pacific the progress is even sharper, declining from 32,000 deaths twenty years ago.
This reflects solid commitment, said Pacific Friends of Global Health Chair, Professor Brendan Crabb AC.
“Ongoing financial and political commitment is the only way to successfully fight an ancient scourge like malaria especially as global heating exacerbates the threat,” Professor Crabb said. “While COVID has disrupted us over the last three years, the long term story is one of profound progress and millions of lives saved. We know how to eliminate malaria, but we are not on track to meet the 2030 goals. Now is the time to redouble those efforts.”
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of global malaria program funding, has invested to spread the latest medical technology where it is most needed. Most recent annual statistics showed Global Fund programs distributed 133 million insecticide-treated nets to protect families from malaria. Programs also saw 10.1 million structures covered by indoor residual spraying, 34 million children covered by seasonal malaria chemoprevention and 12.5 million pregnant women received preventive therapy for malaria in 2021.
Continued investment in the next-generation of anti-malaria tools and technology is key to achieving the 2030 global malaria targets. New insecticide-treated nets, targeted baits that attract mosquitoes and spatial repellents are all under development. Vaccines such as the RTS,S, which target the malaria parasite before it enters the human liver have recently completed Phase 3 clinical trials.
New diagnostics are also on the way with non-invasive saliva and urine-based diagnostics a growing area of investigation, with potential for rapid screening outside of conventional medical settings.
“There is no question COVID disrupted progress against malaria, but the world can bounce back,” Professor Crabb said. “Through a combination of technological progress, financial commitment and political conviction we can defeat malaria and save millions more lives from being destroyed by this miserable parasite.
“To succeed, we need to close the funding gap between the amount invested in the global malaria response and the resources needed. This has widened over the past 3 years from a shortfall of US$ 2.6 billion in 2019 to US$ 3.5 billion in 2020 and US$ 3.8 billion in 2021.
“This is not a cost, but an investment in the security and stability of our region and world.”
To arrange interview: Nick Lucchinelli 0422 229 032