WASHINGTON, DC — As a young development worker in Mali 20 years ago, I used to engage in high-risk behavior on a fairly regular basis. I slept in villages all over Mali — from the Sahara Desert in the north to the Niger River Delta and Dogon Country in the center to the southern savanna — but not always with a mosquito net hanging over me, least of all an insecticide-treated one (which I don’t think had been invented yet).
I paid for my sins: I was struck down by malaria after an overnight stay in a southern Mali village in the middle of the rainy season. Malaria made me feel so awful, so lethargic, that I thought I might die and worse, I didn’t much care if I did. In those days, mosquito nets were hard to come by, especially if you were a poor, rural Malian. And most Malians were poor and rural.
Much has changed in 20 years. Today, a new report unveiled at a press conference at the National Press Club shows that Mali is part of a pan-African malaria success story. In 2000, there were an estimated 22,663 malaria deaths among children 1 to 59 months in Mali. From 2001 to 2010, the global investment in malaria control prevented 65,065 malaria deaths, more than any of the 34 malaria endemic countries in Africa studied in the report.
And Mali is only one piece of an even bigger and happier story: The new report, Saving Lives with Malaria Control: Counting Down to the Millennium Development Goals — authored by Tulane University, Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and PATH and published today by Roll Back Malaria — reveals that the lives of almost three quarters of a million children in these 34 countries were saved in the last 10 years through the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying and preventive treatment of malaria during pregnancy.
Most importantly, the report estimates that an additional 3 million lives could be saved by 2015 if the world continues to increase these highly cost-effective measures for tackling the disease.
The report should provide a clarion call for world leaders who gather in New York next week for the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals as they seek ways to meet the eight goals in the five years remaining in the 15-year timeline of the MDGs.
The report shows clearly what is required: U.S. and other international donors should keep investing in malaria control the way they have been doing the last few years, and 3 million more lives could be saved in the next five years.