LONDON — Bold U.N. targets to eradicate malaria are likely to be missed if governments continue to cut back aid budgets due to waning political commitment, according to a report in The Lancet.
Countries with a good track record in combating the killer disease, such as China, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa, are set to see 30% less funding in coming years as aid money is diverted elsewhere, the report adds.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established 16 years ago, spurred a furious spate of donations worth almost $255 billion. According to a separate report from The Lancet, between 2000 and 2009 the global malaria aid budget grew by 28.3%, but since 2010, it’s fallen to a negative growth rate of -0.9%.
As the world observes World Malaria Day, World Health Organization (WHO) figures show reasons for optimism: the fight against malaria has been successful in the past, with 33 countries reporting fewer than 1,000 cases of malaria in 2015, and mortality rates cut by 60% globally since 2000.
In a landmark for the fight against the disease, Europe, not usually been associated with malaria, but which boasted 90,000 cases of the disease as recent as 1995, is the first region to be declared malaria-free.
By 2030, the WHO wants to cut malaria cases and the global mortality rate by 90%, and by at least 40% leading up to 2020, but the Lancet reports warn that these targets could be missed as waning political commitment and funding undo previous successes.
While half the world’s countries have wiped out the disease, there were more than 400,000 malaria deaths recorded last year, and 3.2 billion people around the world are susceptible to the disease. With half the world’s population at risk, why is aid dropping?
A possible explanation is that aid efforts and government funding are being side-tracked to more urgent health crisis, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic or the current Zika virus emergency, which are seen as a more pressing danger to the population.
According to the report, in “success story” countries, the government is supposed to shell out close to 80% of the anti-malaria fight cost, but it is precisely there that the money is being diverted.
At the same time, there seems to be a donor preference for low-income, high-burden countries. That means that the countries most affected by malaria, many of which are in Africa, are receiving more donations, while countries where fighting malaria has been successful seem to be falling off the donor map, as they are perceived to be less urgent.
“This is a serious misconception,” says the report, as the “the progress in eliminating countries is a major driver of global progress, and success in these countries is a crucial step towards success in higher burden countries and, eventually, success in realizing a malaria-free world.”
The WHO, in their global technical strategy for malaria between now and 2030, released on Monday, take a similar position, calling “robust and predictable financing … essential to sustain recent successes.”
Malaria is an infectious disease, caused by the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito. Its symptoms include fever, headache, chills and vomiting, which may be initially hard to diagnose as malaria. According to WHO, if not treated within 24 hours, the disease can turn to severe illness, often leading to death. While the WHO reports a 71% drop in mortality rates for African children under 5 years, they are especially at risk from the disease, with UNICEF naming malaria as a main death cause.