April 25 is World Malaria Day, and this year’s theme is “Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria.” More than half of the world’s population is at risk for malaria, a potentially fatal disease that is transmitted through mosquitoes. Strong investments in malaria research and programming have helped reduce global malaria mortality rates by 26% since 2000, and 50 countries are on track to reduce malaria cases by 75% by 2015. World Malaria Day is an opportunity to celebrate these successes and raise awareness of the investments that are still needed to fight this life-threatening disease.
Despite the hard-won progress made against malaria, approximately 660,000 people die from this disease every year, and drug-resistant strains are emerging in all corners of the globe. Particularly worrisome is malaria that is resistant to artemisinin, one of today’s most widely used antimalarial drugs. Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlighted this issue in a public hearing on drug-resistant infections earlier this week. He cautioned that the continuing spread of artemisinin-resistant malaria would be a significant setback for global control efforts. Freiden also noted that many antimalarial drugs currently in the research pipeline are arteminisin-based, so widespread resistance could render these drugs ineffective before they are even brought to market.
Drug resistance has complicated the battle against malaria, but it by no means has ended that battle. At the World Malaria Day congressional briefing sponsored by the Senate Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, panelists discussed several exciting new research initiatives ranging from innovative drug combinations to new diagnostic tools that could help clinicians detect and track drug resistance in malaria patients. A theme throughout was the importance of public-private collaboration, as evidenced by the participation of industry leaders such as Exxon Mobil, NGOs and U.S. government agency officials. Other event highlights included remarks by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. John Boozman, OD (R-AR), and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), who affirmed the bipartisan support for global efforts to combat malaria. Continued U.S. government investment in malaria control efforts, particularly in research to develop new antimalarial tools, is essential if we are to win the global battle to eliminate this life-threatening disease.
—Morgan McCloskey, global health intern