EU has 'responsibility' to tackle malaria

While high-income countries have eradicated malaria, there is still one person dying from the disease every minute, warns Nirj Deva.

By Nirj Deva MEP

15 Apr 2014

Every year, more than 6.6 million children die before they can reach the age of five. They die, all too easily forgotten or ignored from the most preventable of causes; pneumonia, infectious diseases, diarrhoea and malnutrition.

Today, malaria remains one of the most widespread and prevalent of diseases, present in more than 100 countries across the world, and continuing to exact a heavy cost, not only in human life (one person is estimated to die every single minute from it) but in terms of economic burden, of potential lost. Children who survive early bouts of malaria often go on to suffer lifelong mental disabilities and the economic impact of this largely preventable disease is thought to be in the billions.

To some extent, the great success of the millennium development goals was not in mosquito nets bought or vaccines delivered, but in mobilising political and public awareness. It has been extraordinarily encouraging to see global commitment solidify, malaria funding increasing almost six times since 2003. Since 2007, the EU alone has funded 67 new projects worth €142.3m and covering everything from basic research to vaccines.

"A simple mosquito net costs less than €1.45, yet remains one of the most effective and cost efficient preventative measures available"

It is often argued that, in response to this surge of global effort, malarial occurrences have fallen by 50 per cent in one-third of all countries in which the disease is endemic. While this is true it is not the whole picture. Between 1990 and 2010, the largest determinant reducing global poverty, and with it poverty related diseases, has been growth. Over the past 10 years, developing countries have boosted their GDP by about six per cent per year, roughly equating every one per cent increase in GDP per head to a 1.7 per cent reduction in poverty.

In the post-2015 framework, the EU needs to look towards fostering growth and ideally shift from emergency response to a sustainable approach that demands the strengthening of existing health systems in target countries. If the Nigerian government met its health spending targets for the next three years, the additional resources alone (€19.2bn) would pay for anti-malarial mosquito nets for every citizen, vaccinations for every child and antiretrovirals for every HIV infected person in the country.

However, before this is possible we must recognise that global aid efforts have to date still proved far short of the mark. The MDGs have delivered 18 million insecticide treated bed nets and yet there are an estimated 200 million new cases of malaria each year. A simple mosquito net costs less than €1.45, yet remains one of the most effective and cost efficient preventative measures available.

It is both shocking and frustrating that in the 21st century, 2.5 billion people still lack basic sanitation and despite HIV, tuberculosis and malaria being easily preventable or treatable, some 9000 people still die every single day from one of them. Less than 100 years ago malaria was widespread throughout much of Europe and North America. High-income countries tackled the issue at home aggressively and eventually eliminated it. Yet, a century later and one person still dies every minute in forgotten parts of the world, from a disease that we know all too well how to prevent. We have a responsibility to do far more.