In his blog post entitled, “Mapping the End of Malaria,” billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates praises the efforts made to reduce the death rate of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa. Gates writes that it gives him “great joy” to share a report published by the New England Journal of Medicine that reveals the malaria death rate in sub-Saharan Africa has declined by 57 percent since 2000.
“With almost 500,000 children still dying of malaria every year, we obviously have a long way to go. But cutting the death rate by more than half is a miracle. It’s one of the greatest success stories in the history of global health,” Gates adds.
Since 1999, Gates, through initiatives by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has reiterated the need to eradicate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and the world. Last year, the foundation and the United Nation Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Malaria, Ray Chambers, came up with a plan to fully eradicate malaria by 2040, potentially saving 11 million lives and $2 trillion in economic impact.
Improvements in Africa
According to the study, the four countries in West Africa that had the highest estimated rates of malaria deaths in 2000 saw major declines in 2015.
Burkina Faso saw its malaria-related death rate drop from 33.9 to 17.6 deaths per 10,000 people per year, Mali went down from 31.4 to 23.1 deaths, Sierra Leone declined from 31.0 to 14.4 deaths, and Mozambique’s rate fell from 30.9 to 9.5 deaths.
The study, which was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, notes that, “The two countries with the highest malaria burden also saw large declines in rates. For instance, Nigeria, which had 23.6 to 10.5 deaths per 10,000 people per year and Democratic Republic of Congo which had 24.8 to 10.3 deaths per 10,000 per year.”
Other countries that had notable declines were Uganda, which had 25.6 to 4.1 deaths per 10,000 people per year and Burundi, which dropped from 29.6 to 4.7 deaths.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Gates acknowledged that the decline in deaths caused by malaria on the continent has been due to the the commitment of both rich and poor countries to eradicate the disease.
“We’ve known for some time that malaria deaths have been declining steeply. The significance of this new study, which was produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is that we now have the strongest evidence ever of just how steep the decline has been,” he writes.
“This progress on malaria is no accident. The amount of money available to pay for bed nets, effective medications, and malaria research rose by 1,000 percent from 2000 to 2015, fueling massive new prevention and control efforts in countries hit hard by malaria.”
Gates commended the efforts made by more than 50 global countries, which have joined together to raise billions of dollars to eradicate malaria through the Global Fund. African countries that are part of this initiative include Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zimbabwe.
“So the next time you hear skeptics charging that foreign aid doesn’t work, point to malaria. Foreign assistance has not chased away local resources. On the contrary, it’s encouraged African nations to step up their own health efforts. And the results have been nothing short of remarkable” he notes.
Gates points out that the decline of malaria can also be assisted by precision malaria maps that have given his foundation the ability to locate the areas with the highest burden of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.
“That’s super valuable for short-term interventions, like helping a country determine where to deploy health staff. It’s just as valuable for long-term efforts to reduce the rate of transmission and shrink the malaria map,” he says.
“When you zoom in with these high-definition maps, you can quickly home in on the hot spots where malaria is hitting hard and yet existing tools like bed nets are not being used widely enough. These maps show that in most countries it’s actually a very small percentage of the country where the disease burden is high and you need to focus your interventions.”
There are other factors that Gates considers key to eradicating malaria globally in the next decade, including developing drugs that clear malaria parasites from the body with just one dose and creating tools that can prevent malaria transmission, such as vaccines.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also introducing a technology called “genome editing,” which will change the gene of the mosquito that effectively transmits malaria in Africa, thus reducing the spread of the disease.
Gates believes that malaria-related deaths are the key reason why “mosquitoes are the deadliest animals in the world.” Besides investing in the eradication of malaria, the hands-on philanthropist has travelled to several African countries to see how they’re impacted by the disease.
“In Tanzania, a country that has led the way with a major scale-up, the mortality rate fell more than 80 percent from 2000 to 2015. I remember visiting Tanzania years ago during the rainy season and seeing overflowing hospitals. When I went back years later, there were almost no children in the wards,” Gates says.