Despite the tremendous progress against malaria, the disease continues to infect an estimated 219 million people each year. Nearly half of these cases occur in predominantly Muslim countries.
Malaria kills more than 650,000 people each year, of whom around 560,000 are children under the age of five. In the time it takes you to read this article, roughly three more children will lose their lives to this preventable and treatable disease.
Precious lives are lost for the lack of a $1 (Dh3.7) course of antimalarial treatment or a $7 long-lasting insecticide-treated net. Malaria disrupts communities and wrecks lives. It keeps children out of school and parents out of work. It costs governments and societies billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity. In Africa alone, malaria costs an estimated minimum of US $12 billion in lost productivity each year. But there is a glimmer of hope.
In 2008, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appointed a special envoy for malaria, Ray Chambers, and called on nations to end deaths from malaria by ensuring universal access to prevention and treatment by 2010. The call led to an increase in access to life-saving tools and products that have driven a decrease in cases in recent years.
With strong supervision by the Roll Back Malaria partnership (RBM), malaria deaths declined by more than 25 per cent since 2000. And 43 malaria-endemic countries reported declines in malaria cases by over 50 per cent and many have seen decreases in all-cause child mortality.
Thanks to bold leadership and increased funding, global malaria prevention and control efforts have been scaled up, with notable progress in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 90 per cent of malaria cases occur. Between 2004 and 2010, the number of long-lasting insecticidal nets delivered to sub-Saharan Africa increased from six million to 145 million. Programmes to spray the interiors of buildings with insecticides were expanded, with 153 million people worldwide and 77 million people in Africa being protected by this intervention during the same period.
Investments in diagnostics and treatment have been fruitful. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) have made it possible to improve and expand accurate testing for malaria to some of the most remote areas of the world. Globally, 12 million patients were reported to have been tested for malaria with RDTs in 2011, which accounted for 40 per cent of all case detection in Africa.
For the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states, strong political leadership and support from the Global Fund has resulted in more than 55 million insecticide-treated nets being distributed and more than 75 million cases of malaria being treated.
At RBM, we have proven and cost-effective tools to prevent, treat and diagnose malaria. We also have a plan - the Global Malaria Action Plan - and a solid coordinating mechanism that provides both a roadmap for success and evidence that our goals are feasible, given the right resources and commitment.
But we're at a critical juncture. While global funding reached unprecedented levels in 2010, challenging economic times have left an estimated US $5 billion annual funding gap till 2020 that places our progress in great jeopardy.
Our programmes and policies are working but if we don't continue to invest in them, we'll lose the fragile advances we've made and millions will continue to suffer. We must find creative ways to work together to maximise the effectiveness of our efforts and identify alternative sources of funding so we can sustain our progress and continue saving lives. Never before has diplomacy and partnership been so important.
Investments in malaria prevention and control have been among the most effective investments in global health: the return is high and the cost is low. In the case of Africa, for example, an investment of US $3.6 billion now stands to not only save an estimated three million lives till 2015, but it could also help avert an estimated US $36 billion in lost productivity over the next three years.
Investing in malaria is a solid economic investment. Health is the building block of all development and when we invest in malaria, we invest in communities. Investment in malaria also accelerates progress in other health and development areas by reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty and improving maternal and child health.
As special representative to RBM, I urge donor countries and political leaders - including members of key groups like the Gulf Cooperation Council, OIC and G20 - to make smart investments and help fill the funding gap for malaria. Every bit of support - whether from nations, officials or individuals - has the potential to make enormous impact.
The Gulf region has proven to be committed to the well-being of its global family through generous humanitarian aid. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, have exemplified the power of political leadership through their investments in RBM. In the UAE, the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation has pledged support to join RBM to advance progress against malaria. I only hope that such fruitful cooperation can continue as we move into the last 1,000 days before the 2015 deadline, when progress on achieving goals is to be assessed. Our work now will forecast what results might lay ahead and will hopefully set us up for greater victory.
The road ahead will be difficult but if we maintain our commitment, the rewards will be substantial. As we work to defeat malaria, let's do so with bold conviction and collaboration to identify creative solutions to overcome the challenges threatening the progress we've made so we can help communities around the world to thrive.
Princess Astrid of Belgium is special representative to the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, a global framework for coordinated action against malaria