Over the last 20 years there has been enormous progress made in the fight against malaria.
In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) detailed in their World Malaria Report that 7.6 million lives have been saved since 2000 and 1.5 billion cases averted.
Twenty-one countries have eliminated malaria over the last two decades and, of these, 10 countries were officially certified by The WHO as malaria-free. Countries of the Greater Mekong continue to make major gains, with a staggering 97% reduction in cases of one strain of malaria seen since 2000.
However, there are two different sides to this story: on one hand, the progress seeing more countries than ever in a position to eliminate malaria, and on the other, the danger that gives us a stark reminder that elimination is possible but not inevitable.
This World Malaria Day, global health network, Action for Global Health are highlighting the ways that UK Aid supports their charity partners in the fight against malaria. But more importantly, how we can take action to ensure that we stay on track for a malaria-free world.
Fighting malaria during a pandemic
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has placed an additional burden on health systems worldwide, especially in countries with fragile health systems. Many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa which account for more than 90% of global malaria cases and deaths, are facing a double challenge of protecting their citizens against existing threats to public health, like malaria and emerging ones like COVID-19.
A new report by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria shows COVID-19 has massively disrupted health systems and health service delivery for HIV, TB and malaria in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia in 2020.
The data collected shows that between April and September 2020, compared to the same six-month period in 2019, malaria diagnoses fell by 31%. The WHO has warned that disruption to malaria diagnosis and treatment caused by COVID-19 could lead to thousands of additional deaths.
However, by investing now, to maintain the malaria fight and provide a pressure-tested platform to ensure no fever remains undiagnosed, untreated, or unreported, we can equip ourselves to address the current and future health security challenges that otherwise put us all at risk.
With the help of UK Aid, we are able to support organisations helping the globe’s most disadvantaged communities. Which is why it is even more important to make sure we don’t fall further behind our goal for Universal Health Coverage in light of the government’s move to cut UK Aid spend from 0.7% to 0.5%.
Strengthening the response to malaria
International non-profit organisation, Malaria Consortium worked in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) from 2018 to 2021 on a remarkable malaria prevention project.
The Strengthening Uganda’s Response to Malaria (SURMa) project, funded by UK Aid, aimed to improve access to and uptake of high-quality malaria prevention and control services in 27 districts in Uganda.
SURMa’s work was vital, its goal simple – to establish sustainable, community-level malaria services and save lives. It was instrumental in building community capacity to diagnose and treat malaria, ensuring district and community health workers in Uganda (known as village health teams) had the tools, knowledge and support to respond to malaria.
The project helped communities take up preventive measures, helped mothers to care for sick children at home and improved the referral of sick children and pregnant women to health centres where they were able to receive lifesaving treatment.
By taking the fight against malaria to the household level, SURMa highlighted the roles individuals can play in preventing transmission. It also helped to build surveillance capacity, so that health workers could detect and respond to dangerous upsurges of the disease.
Dr Godfrey Magumba the East and Southern Africa Programmes Director and Uganda Director at Malaria Consortium shared:
“The aim of SURMa was to create sustainable solutions to ensure the long-term reduction of malaria cases and deaths. The project succeeded in achieving this, significantly reducing deaths from malaria across the 27 districts – districts with some of the worst malaria rates in the country. UK Aid was a vital part of funding the necessary resources to implement project activities consistently and achieve this kind of impact.”
Dr Thomas Malinga, Oyam District Health Officer for the SURMa project, said:
“Previously malaria testing was held at health facilities but most people live more than 6km away from their nearest health facility. The distance between the community and facilities was the biggest challenge of delayed identification against malaria.
Now, community health workers help link the community with their nearest health facility. They have been trained to recognise malaria and identify danger signs that need referral. At the end of each month, they give us a report of what they have done, the number of people they have registered and/ or treated and what supplies they used so we are able to replenish them.
Through the SURMa project we want to demonstrate progress and detect outbreaks in order to take early action.”
The project has been invaluable to young and expectant mothers especially as it has increased access to essential malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea services for children under five. It’s also increasing uptake of sporadic malaria prevention treatment during pregnancy, and improving access to and use of long-lasting insecticidal nets.
The SURMa project is just one of many projects working towards improving the lives of people in Uganda and ensuring access to the right health care to fight malaria.
Enabling continued progress of Universal Health Coverage
The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects in all areas of our lives. But most crucially, it has shown how important it is that people all over the world have access to health care when they need it. Especially in countries already dealing with the prevalence of diseases such malaria.
As the UK is set to host the Presidency of the G7 Summit, we can and should lead by example and champion universal health coverage and strengthening health systems as a global priority.
Katie Husselby, Coordinator at Action for Global Health, said:
“As the world continues to deal with the pandemic, inequalities in health care provision will continue to grow if we do not take action.
The G7 Summit this June is an important opportunity to discuss health systems and demonstrate the UK’s commitment to Universal Health Coverage.”
What you can do to help
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is using the UK’s G7 Presidency to unite leading democracies to help the world build back better from coronavirus and create a healthier world. So, let’s ensure he does just that.
Take action today by signing and sending this letter to your MP to ensure that health for all is prioritised at this year’s G7 Summit.
By raising the profile of this issue, we will show the UK’s continued commitment to creating a healthier, safer world, through standing in solidarity with other countries, at a time when it matters the most.
We have the power to end malaria in a generation if we focus our efforts – let’s make it our generation.