Malaria Could Be Eradicated by 2050, Leading Experts Say

The world could and should be free from malaria by 2050, according to a report published by an international group of leading experts. They described the goal to wipe out the disease in a generation as "ambitious, achievable, and necessary."

If the correct steps are followed, the condition could be eliminated everywhere outside of Africa by 2030, and worldwide by 2050, the Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication said.

The team looked at existing evidence and new analysis on the disease to create a model to estimate the reach of malaria in 2030 and 2050 in certain scenarios.

They advised the international health community to "vigorously embrace malaria exceptionalism"—the idea that malaria is an exceptional disease requiring exceptional levels of attention.

This would involve making access to diagnosis and treatment as widely available as possible, as well as the tools to control mosquito populations. More research is also needed to come up with new ways to tackle the spread and find treatments. It is unclear how much eradication would cost, but the authors estimate an annual increase of around $2 billion investment from donors and government health bodies is vital in countries where malaria is endemic.

But obstacles stand in the way. These include the poor management of malaria programs, failing to use existing data to come up with new strategies to fight the disease, poorly incentivised staff, and communities which are not engaged with the problem.

The 41 authors of the report called on countries that have almost eliminated the disease and those with the highest levels need to work alongside each other, and for lawmakers to pump money into the cause.

While "2050 is a bold but attainable goal," the experts warned of the social and economic costs if this isn't achieved.

"Malaria eradication will save many lives in perpetuity; it will promote equity and reduce poverty; it will deliver broad benefits to the human welfare and the economy of Africa and many parts of Asia and the Americas; and it will contribute to UHC [universal health coverage], global health security, and the achievement of the SDGs [sustainable development goals]," the authors wrote.

"Malaria eradication is a goal of epic proportions that represents the best of human ingenuity and requires an extraordinary degree of trust and collaboration among all nations. It is this bigger vision that will propel and sustain the community in the long and sometimes difficult road to a malaria-free world," they said.

Over the past century, huge leaps have been made in tackling the deadly disease caused by a parasite transmitted through the bite of the infected female Anopheles mosquito. More than half of the world's countries are officially free of the disease, and the worldwide mortality rate dropped by more than 60 percent between 2000 and 2015.

But countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular are still affected. In 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases across 86 countries, with 200 million of those concentrated in this region. Around two thirds of cases worldwide are from ten countries, with the top two, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, accounting for 36 percent. Worryingly, the drop in cases has plateaued, particularly in the worst affected areas. And in 2017, 55 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America saw an increase in cases between 2015 and 2017, which was accompanied by a leveling off of global funding, and mosquitoes becoming resistant to insecticides and medicines.

Jake Baum, Professor of Cell Biology and Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London who did not work on the report, told Newsweek he agreed that the project was "ambitious and bold but necessary."

"The need for reinvigorated investment and a focus not just on rolling out what we have but investing in new transformative technologies and tools is critical if we are to achieve global eradication," he said.

Baum added: "At a time when the world seems to be tipping all over the place it'd be nice to see some collective coming together on this scale for something global like malaria."

Sir Richard Feachem, co-chair of The Lancet Commission on malaria eradication and director of the Global Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) said in a statement: "For too long, malaria eradication has been a distant dream, but now we have evidence that malaria can and should be eradicated by 2050.

"This report shows that eradication is possible within a generation. But to achieve this common vision, we simply cannot continue with a business as usual approach. The world is at a tipping point, and we must instead challenge ourselves with ambitious targets and commit to the bold action needed to meet them," he said.

Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, board member of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and co-chair of The Lancet Commission on malaria eradication, said in a statement: "Despite unprecedented progress, malaria continues to strip communities around the world of promise and economic potential. This is particularly true in Africa, where just five countries account for nearly half of the global burden.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, commented: "The Lancet Commission makes a bold call for eradicating malaria by 2050. I would be thrilled to see this global scourge eradicated even earlier. But we will not achieve eradication within this time frame with the currently available tools and approaches...The good news is that we, the global malaria community, know what we need to do."

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A group of experts has challenged governments and health care leaders to eradicate malaria by 2050. This stock image shows a mosquito.