EYD must maintain focus on combating malaria

Nirj Deva believes 'diluted budgets and complacency' could impact on the gains made in the fight against malaria.

By Nirj Deva

29 Jan 2015

With 2015 designated as the European year for development (EYD), we find ourselves at something of a rare tipping point. As the UN initiated millennium development goals (MDGs) come to their natural conclusion, attention has moved towards the next chapter in international development. Ideally, this post-2015 agenda will see a significant shift in focus from emergency response to a sustainable approach, underpinned by strengthening existing healthcare systems. However, there is a temptation for us to indulge in reflection by lingering on the accomplishments of the past, bolstered by the somewhat justifiable guise of evaluating what works and what doesn't.

The fight against malaria, the sixth MDG, has long been heralded as arguably the most successful campaign of its kind. The widespread distribution of nets, effective treatments and rapid diagnosis tests have seen mortality figures drop an impressive 47 per cent between 2000 and 2013, according to the world health organisation. Indeed, 55 countries are expected to realise the 2015 world health assembly and roll back malaria partnership target of lowering malaria incidence by 75 per cent.

"If we fail to eradicate malaria now, diluted budgets and complacency will see past gains lost to increasing cases of drug-resistance"

Yet despite malaria being preventable and curable, half a million people still succumb to the disease each year, with 584,000 people dying in 2013. It is an affliction made all the more poignant for its rampancy in children under the age of five, some seven per cent of whom will suffer attendant and lasting neurological episodes.

We are now confronted with a rare opportunity; foregoing self-indulgence in favour of capitalising on our gains. The post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) framework will face fresh challenges, complacency not least among them. Perversely, the success of preventative and control measures in the campaign against malaria might well prove its undoing. With the rise of other health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak, there is a concern that malaria funding will be viewed as less critical in the short-term.

Of the 75 malaria resurgence events since 1930, most have been attributed to a decline in funding, according to a study by the Clinton health access initiative. If we fail to eradicate malaria now, diluted budgets and complacency will see past gains lost to increasing cases of drug-resistance.

A realisation that the development landscape is shifting is necessary. While donor countries look to trim their balance sheets, global wealth is on the rise. Even the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia are set to reach higher-income brackets, which will see their eligibility for pricing concessions snatched away, critical in the case of essential medicines but also impacting on international support. The emerging economies of Brazil, China and India must be encouraged to use their increasing influence to support upcoming SDGs, if they are to succeed.

The private sector is also set to play a pivotal role. Due to the threat posed to their workers by the disease, oil and gas companies in particular have driven forward the anti-malaria campaign. Chevron, the global fund's largest single corporate donor, will provide more than €50m over the course of eight years, while the ExxonMobil malaria initiative runs programmes in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Angola. Yet, to date, we have failed to harness the extraordinary potential posed by the indigenous private sector.

On 27 January 2014, colleagues from parliament's committee on development will host an event with the support of the Novartis malaria initiative looking at how private sector innovation and improved funding through public-private partnerships could boost our efforts in the fight against malaria.


Read the most recent articles written by Nirj Deva - Public-private partnerships key to achieving sustainable development goals