Making malaria history in Asia and the Pacific

Published on Friday, 18 December 2015

Published by Dr. Nafsiah Mboi on Friday, 18 December 2015

Infected mosquitos transmit malaria to humans. Photo by Global Panorama.
Infected mosquitos transmit malaria to humans. Photo by Global Panorama.

Leaders of Asia and the Pacific are resolutely committed to defeating malaria. Eighteen heads of governments from across the region endorsed the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) Malaria Elimination Roadmap at the 10th East Asia Summit (EAS) in Malaysia last month. This was an important step toward regional fulfilment of the EAS 2014 commitment to achieve a malaria-free Asia and Pacific by 2030.

The roadmap presents six priority activities that countries can implement that will contribute to accelerate malaria elimination. The roadmap builds on the learning and successes of the Millennium Development Goals years, which saw a halving of the malaria disease burden over a 15-year period.

Malaria elimination is imperative for the 2 billion people at risk in Asia and the Pacific, especially in light of emerging multidrug-resistant malaria in the Greater Mekong Subregion. To achieve the goal set by our presidents and prime ministers, we must achieve more than in the past. Our ministries, technical experts and local communities must find new, more effective ways to work on their own and together. We need to strengthen multi-country and multi-sector collaboration. At the same time, it is of critical importance that we all learn to reach out to affected communities and work better with them. Furthermore, if we are to succeed we must use innovative methods of financing and community organization.

With considerable success in the fight against malaria found across Asia and the Pacific, it is clear that strong South–South collaboration can be a key enabler of progress in this field. As the region continues to evolve, our countries are becoming more interconnected through extensive social interaction, trade and investment. Given malaria’s cross-border nature, tackling it effectively depends on our collective ability to reach people at risk and work with them, as well as finding ways to shrink malaria-prone environments. Only with effective surveillance and monitoring can we know what progress we are making, and what still needs to be done.

Malaria, however, does not exist in a vacuum. Like other public health, malaria is often an indicator of weak health systems, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas. Weak systems are often hampered by the limitations of quality and the availability of surveillance data. Inadequately developed health infrastructure, and shortages of human resources likewise must be key concerns. Finally, issues such as supply and quality of commodities need to be effectively addressed. If these various challenges are not tackled, they can create or widen critical gaps in malaria prevention, diagnosis and care for the most vulnerable populations.

Stronger health systems require not only political commitment, but reliable and adequate financing, as well as healthy pipelines for new commodities and innovations. The roadmap seeks to engage both health ministries and central government agencies in elimination as a core development agenda. Strategic investments for universal health coverage (strengthening health systems, health security, and health financing reform) will contribute significantly to malaria elimination. In return, the region can expect economic benefits from malaria elimination, estimated to reach $300 billion.

As we embark on new modes of collaboration to defeat this disease, we should celebrate the leadership and foresight that has brought us to this point. With the roadmap endorsed by the EAS, we have a framework to facilitate implementation of national plans and regional progress, which together will save more than a million lives over the next 15 years. This is a task that can not be delayed. The time is now.