Time to Bridge the Funding Gap to Achieve Zero Malaria
A doctor at Ifakara District Hospital in Tanzania treating a malaria patient

The momentum from last week’s World Malaria Day needs to translate into more resources to address the global funding shortfall to achieve 2030 malaria targets.

Since the turn of the century, global partnership and sustained investment have completely transformed the fight against malaria – preventing two billion malaria cases, saving 11.7 million lives, and putting eradication within reach. 

Figures like these were very much in the spotlight last week as World Malaria Day took centre stage to highlight the progress that’s been made in the fight against malaria so far, as well as the further steps that still need to be taken. But it’s vital that the conversation about malaria eradication is sustained beyond this important day, and action is increased to deliver against this goal. 

As we now look towards the World Health Assembly at the end of the month, we hope to see an increased commitment to ending this deadly disease.

As more countries approach malaria elimination, progress has started to slow in the countries with the highest rates of the disease – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Low coverage of existing tools, emerging biological threats, and a shortfall in global malaria funding prevents these countries from reaching global malaria targets. 

In 2021, malaria cases increased to 247 million, contributing to over 600,000 preventable deaths, according to the World Malaria Report 2022.

Converging biological threats

Between 2021-23, global funding for malaria control has fallen by $4.8 billion – less than half the total funding required to deliver national programmes.

This is a tragic situation and a situation that remains precarious. At the same time, half the world’s population lives at risk of the disease.

With several biological threats converging and threatening to increase the spread of malaria, the stakes are higher than ever. The growing threat of insecticide and antimalarial resistance will have significant implications on the effectiveness of the tools at the heart of efforts to end malaria, such as nets, treatments, insecticide spraying, and diagnostic tests.

While many countries pledged $15.7 billion to the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment last year (which serves as a significant source of funding for tackling malaria), in addition to the Presidential Malaria Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this was far less than needed to accelerate the fight against these diseases and achieve global targets. Countries are now faced with the enormously difficult task of increasing malaria control measures with even less funding than before.

Now is not the time for the world to step back from our commitments to end malaria – quite the inverse.

New tools but shortage of resources

An infant receiving the RTS,S malaria vaccine in Ghana in 2019. New malaria vaccines hold the promise of significantly reducing childhood infections and severe malaria cases.

The good news? We have new tools to respond to these threats. Existing investments in R&D have produced the most robust pipeline of malaria interventions in over a decade to address emerging threats and transform the fight against malaria. But many of these proven interventions are waiting to be implemented at scale. Countries will not reap the rewards of these investments without financing the scale-up and rolling out of these innovations where they’re needed most.

We now have a window of opportunity to galvanise action and accelerate progress to achieve 2030 targets, but countries must act fast. They continue to work tirelessly to hold the line against malaria by implementing innovative approaches to tailor and deliver lifesaving tools to the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach. Still, without sufficient investment and efficient use of available resources, they risk losing further ground.

Global leaders, countries, the private sector, and all partners must urgently deliver bold malaria control and elimination investments. Only by innovating and bringing new tools, implementing new approaches targeting and tailoring the most in need, and bridging these funding gaps can we accelerate progress against this age-old disease and ultimately achieve a zero-malaria world.

Dr Corine Karema is Interim CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. 

Image Credits: Peter Mgongo, WHO.

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