Malaria is undoubtedly one of the most formidable nemeses of peoples throughout the world, with an estimated 243 million cases and causing the death of 863.000 people worldwide in 2008 according to the World Malaria Report 2009.
Although the vast majority of the cases are concentrated in Africa (89%), the Eastern Mediterranean (6%) and South-East Asia (5%), half of the world’s population is at risk of this disease. Malaria remains a most serious scourge to public health and human productivity, even though we possess the knowledge and tools to prevent and control the disease, and eliminate local transmission in some areas.
That is why, in the Americas Region, PAHO is working to eliminate malaria as a public health problem in areas deemed possible, be them at the subregional or at the national level (see my Inaugural Address regarding our vision for disease eradication or elimination in the Americas).
In this context, on the occasion of the commemoration of World Malaria Day, we were very honored by the visit of Princess Astrid of Belgium, Special Representative of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, to PAHO headquarters in Washington DC. Joined by Prof. Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Executive Director of RBM, and other dignitaries, the Princess reached out to our Region to raise awareness about the disease and to call for increased action in the fight against this preventable and treatable disease that continues to take hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
In the meeting, we shared the good news of our Region’s achievement in our fight against the disease: 53% reduction in malaria burden in the Americas since the year 2000, contributed by the remarkable case decreases in 18 of the 21 malaria-endemic countries in the Region (see PAHO’s malaria webpage for more details: www.paho.org/malaria).
The meeting also served as an opportunity to highlight the important work that countries of our Region and various partners and stakeholders are doing to prevent and control malaria, and become part of the solution for this global challenge.
However, we in PAHO agree with the Princess and the RBM delegation that malaria challenges continue to mount and evolve. Cases in three countries in the Region continue to increase, and natural calamities and other social problems such as the recent earthquake in Haiti post threats of serious setbacks to the achievement of goals against malaria in the Region.
Also, there is continuing need to strengthen inter-country and South-South collaborations as malaria is a disease that knows no borders and is oftentimes most difficult to address in border areas. PAHO is mandated and strategically positioned to collaborate in these efforts but increased resources are needed for an effective and efficient response.
We engage in a joint effort with the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) and the George Washington University Center for Global Health to recognize the Malaria Champions of the Americas as a mechanism to identify, celebrate, and provide avenues to emulate best practices and success stories in malaria prevention and control. The recognition is conferred primarily to implementers and provides opportunities for capacity building, expanded network for technical collaboration, and distinction of being role models and inspirations for the global battle against malaria.
The Region of the Americas is relentless in engaging with the rest of the world in the battle against malaria. We strive to protect our achievements, face new and evolving challenges, and address the unfinished agenda. We will continue our efforts to prevent and control malaria and we will keep working towards reaching the achievable dream of its elimination as a public health problem.