Posted by: cmoscetti | 03/21/2011

Keeping our foot on the pedal with global malaria control

United States investments in global malaria control are making a difference, due in large part to the successes of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Several weeks ago, delivering the Barnes Global Health Lecture at the National Institutes of Health, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah touted PMI as “one area where our commitment has in fact successfully lived up to our rhetoric.”

These same sentiments echoed throughout a briefing last week, hosted by the Global Health Council, World Vision and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Communication Programs, entitled “Demonstrated Impact in the Fight against Malaria: Success Through Partnership and Leadership” (listen to the podcast here). Featuring Dr. Robert Newman, director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Program, the briefing highlighted the valuable contributions of U.S. leadership, through both PMI and as the largest donor to the Global Fund (which in turn finances the majority of malaria control programs worldwide), and how these contributions are expanding bednet coverage, malaria treatment, and ultimately saving lives.

PMI, the result of leadership by President Bush, has since been strongly supported by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. The initiative is not just a diplomatic tool that helps the U.S. make friends in the world, but all global health programs help promote human rights and make the U.S. safer. But these huge benefits don’t cost much. Malaria control is “an opportunity to take a little bit of resources and do mighty things,” Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, co-chair of the Congressional Malaria and NTD Caucus, said at the briefing. His co-chair on the caucus and long-time global health champion, Congressman Donald Payne, stressed, “a little spent [in malaria] goes a long way” – a long way indeed, saving  485 lives every day.

As Congress continues to debate budget cuts, tough choices will undoubtedly have to be made. But, among these choices are U.S. global health programs, which continuously receive bipartisan support, save lives, improve U.S. standing in the world, and contribute to our national security, all for less than one percent of the federal budget. Sounds like a pretty good investment to me.

The benefits of strong U.S. investment in malaria control are emblematic in many places in Africa like Zanzibar, which has gone from nearly 18,000 confirmed cases in 2000 to virtually zero in 2009. Concluding the briefing, Dr. Abdullah Ali, director of the Zanzibar Malaria Control Program, emphasized that the appropriate tools are available, plans are in place, and it’s simply a matter of continuing focus and leadership. “This is not a disease that tolerates slacking off,” added Dr. Newman, “we have to keep our foot on the pedal.”

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