Getting a Grip on Malaria
This article is also available in German.
One of the many regrettable ways the gap between rich and poor around the world manifests itself is in the disparate treatment of diseases. Infections that usually just mean a trip to the pharmacy in richer nations can often be fatal for children in poorer countries. But in 2020, everyone, no matter their wealth or background, felt what it was like to be powerless in the face of illness.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has made us all painfully aware of how crucial it is to contain the spread of infectious diseases. At the same time, dealing with 2020 has also shown us what the global community is capable of when it works together. Within a year of COVID-19's appearance, scientists developed several safe, effective vaccines to prevent the disease. This is the fastest that human beings have ever been able to immunize against a virus. As the world now collaborates on the complex logistics of setting up COVID-19 vaccination centers worldwide and delivering the vaccine to everyone who needs it, we should take what we have learned to confront the other deadly diseases in our midst: Even in 2020 during this deadly pandemic, more people in African nations were projected to die from malaria than from the novel coronavirus.
Malaria has long been one of the most insidious diseases in the world. Spread through mosquito bites, it can cause fever, anemia, neurological problems, and eventually death. According to the 2020 World Malaria Report, there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019, and 409,000 people perished from it. Sadly, every one of these deaths could have been avoided if the world had worked harder to end this readily preventable and treatable disease forever.
That was exactly the starting point for the work of Bill and Melinda Gates. They created their nonprofit foundation in 2000 because they believe that everyone deserves a chance for a healthy life and nobody should have to die a preventable death. Their foundation has been working to help those in need ever since.
New Mosquito Nets
As part of that mission, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been committed to the fight against malaria for more than 20 years now. It is one of the key supporters of the Global Fund, a global effort created in 2002 to defeat three major infectious diseases: AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The foundation has pledged around 630 million euros (US$760 million) to the fund between 2020 and 2022. One of the four largest state donors to the fund is Germany, which will commit 1 billion euros over that same period.
These funds are used for the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of these infectious diseases. For example, insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets are highly effective at preventing mosquito bites at night and are thus a relatively cheap and easy way to stop malarial infections. Millions of children have been saved by having one of these bed nets over their bed. Since 2002, the Global Fund has helped distribute 2.7 billion treated mosquito nets all over the world. In 2019, they distributed around 47 million nets, the most ever in one year.
Unfortunately, over the years mosquitoes have developed a resistance to the existing insecticide-treated nets. But thanks to German chemical company BASF, a new generation of mosquito nets is now being brought to the fight. Unlike the widely used, first generation nets, the Interceptor® G2 mosquito net uses two insecticides and is specially developed to counteract mosquito resistance. It is the result of a research partnership between BASF, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) that has been ongoing for more than 10 years.
Although these new nets will help reduce malaria infections, more R & D is necessary to defeat the disease permanently. And even as the world has been focused on COVID-19, the search for new ways to fight malaria has been progressing.
$4 Billion for Vaccinations
No matter how poor or rich or what their origin, people can gain protection from deadly diseases by vaccinations. That’s why, long before COVID-19 struck, supporting vaccine development and immunization campaigns has been at the heart of the Gates Foundation's work. Along with supporting research into malaria vaccines, the foundation has provided around US$4 billion to vaccination programs in recent years and helped to immunize more than 760 million children.
Of course, for vaccines to work against malaria or any other disease, they must actually reach the people who need them. This presents problems of logistics: Vaccines not only have to be mass-produced quickly; they also have to be accessible, available, and affordable—which is usually only possible in stable and functioning health systems. As a result, and in close cooperation with innovative companies and partners, including Germany, the Gates Foundation focuses in part on building and strengthening primary health care systems in poorer countries over the long term.
As COVID-19 has forced even rich countries to experience over the past year, viruses running rampant cause needless deaths and tremendous economic harm to any nation caught in their wake. That’s why, despite the ongoing pandemic, now is the time for the global community to recommit to ending longstanding deadly infectious diseases like malaria, which will continue to plague poorer nations even after COVID has run its course. With more research and more support from both public and private donors, we can bring malaria under control at last—because everyone deserves a chance at a healthy life.
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About the Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, and with offices around the world, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.