It’s important to mark milestones of great progress both because they remind us that disciplined and determined effrts can be successful in meeting great challenges – but also because they underscore something Nelson Mandela once told us: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Today, the World Health Organization released a report that confirms what many of us have long believed: we’re knocking on the door of doing what many fifteen years ago deemed impossible. The bottom line: we can beat malaria, one of the most intransigent diseases on the planet. By bringing together governments, business leaders, philanthropists, donor agencies and citizens in malaria endemic countries to end deaths from this preventable and treatable disease, we’re making tremendous, unparalleled progress.
Just unpack the statistics in this new report, and the reality is compelling. Globally, malaria mortality has fallen 51 percent among children under the age of 5; in sub-Saharan Africa, by 54 percent. We crossed an important threshold in 2012 -- for the first time, fewer than 500,000 children died of malaria. Our efforts saved approximately 3.3 million lives between 2000 and 2012.
It’s not just that we are beating back malaria in and of itself; the ripple effect is dramatic. Just connect the dots. President Obama has insisted we all focus on his big, bold vision of ending preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035, and helping relieve extreme poverty. If you beat malaria, you’ve taken dramatic steps in that direction.
The gains we’re witnessing also depict a powerful model of global cooperation among all kinds of stakeholders – and that’s a reflection of President Obama’s larger vision as well. When you pull people together, you benefit from the multiplier effect. The result is a shared success. Collective efforts of national governments, international donors, including the United States, the U.K., the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, The World Bank, foundations, the private sector, non-governmental and faith-based organizations, local leaders, civil society, philanthropists, companies, and many others are making a difference. Our own efforts accelerated in 2005 when President George W. Bush announced the launch of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), an initiative Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer has led with incredible results since its inception.
What are the results? Since 2006, 12 of the original 15 PMI focus countries have had reductions in childhood mortality rates, ranging from 16 to 50 percent. Since 2008, President Obama has expanded PMI to include 19 focus countries in Africa and one regional program in the Greater Mekong Subregion. And we have a lot to show for our collective efforts. In 2012, PMI protected over 50 million people with a prevention measure (insecticide-treated nets and/or indoor residual spraying) and distributed more than 43 million treatments of life-saving drugs to targeted populations.
For the United States, the fight has been a truly whole of government effort, led by USAID and implemented together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and including the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense.
But we can't rest on our laurels. The last mile is the toughest and we have to remain committed. Despite the tremendous progress against a disease that has plagued humanity since the beginning of recorded history, challenges remain. Over 3 billion people remain at risk of malaria today. Malaria is still a drain on families, keeping children out of school and people out of work. Eliminating this disease will have economic payoffs – and promote stability and peace. In order to eliminate not only child deaths but also the disease itself, we must continue to deliver the existing, proven tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat malaria. But we must also work to develop a vaccine, improve national health systems, deploy innovative disease surveillance and response technologies, and keep ahead of threats like insecticide and drug resistance.
Last week, we hosted a replenishment conference in Washington, D.C. to finance the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB, and Malaria from 2014 to 2016. There, President Obama announced that the United States will provide one dollar for every two dollars contributed by the rest of the world, up to $5 billion by 2016. This bipartisan commitment in Congress, spanning two administrations, will remain critical to not just to making history on malaria, but of effectively retiring malaria to the history books, right where it belongs. And we're looking for our partners to do the same.
Today’s report is a timely reminder of the incredible progress that can be made when we harness public and private resources from around the world to tackle a global health challenge. But it is also an invitation for us to do more. We can and must win this fight. Onwards!