It may be possible to eradicate malaria — probably the deadliest infection — from the earth by 2050, as per a coalition of 41 leading scientists, economists, and health-policy experts writing in the Lancet.
“Malaria is one of the oldest and deadliest diseases of mankind,” says Sir Richard Feachem, one of the report’s authors and co-chair of the Lancet commission on malaria eradication. “If we, mankind, were to take on this challenge and eradicate malaria by 2050, it would be an achievement of historic proportions. There would be nothing quite like it.”
Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease brought about by a parasite, brings about flu-like symptoms that can be treated effectively (and prevented) with drugs. However, the disease can be fatal whenever left untreated or if complications occur. Overall rate has declined by 36% since 2000, and malaria is presently all-except non-existent in more than half of the countries around the world. Just 1,700 cases are reported in the U.S. every year, as per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Regardless, malaria remains an overwhelming and deadly issue in numerous nations, particularly in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fifty-five countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have actually seen an ascent in malaria cases lately, as indicated by the report. Eradicating the disease — characterized as permanently reducing to zero the number of people infected by a certain disease agent—could keep 219 million individuals from becoming ill, and 435,000 individuals from dying, every year, as per CDC estimates.
Reaching that target won’t be simple. Feachem calls it “ambitious” and “a stretch goal, without a doubt, but achievable.” To reach eradication status, the global health community will have to come together four key regions, Feachem says: programming, hardware, finance, and leadership.
More explicitly, Feachem says the task will require better management and use of data in malaria control programs; more effort from the private sector; new tools and technologies for slowing the transmission and improving the treatment of malaria, for example, widely available vaccines, bug sprays and rapid diagnostic tests; an extra $2 billion in financing per year, bringing the yearly aggregate up to $6.3 billion around the world; and more authority and responsibility nationally, regionally, and globally.
That is a lofty combination of endeavors under the best of conditions, and Feachem says progress could be wrecked by everything from catastrophic events and environmental change to civil wars and mass relocation. The initiative will likewise require buy-in from rich countries, particularly the U.S., that have mostly eliminated malaria within their own borders.
“It directs us away from national self-interest, and guides us toward the common good of mankind,” Feachem says of the effort.
History demonstrates that eradicating diseases is challenging, yet not feasible. Smallpox was pronounced eradicated in 1980, and polio is very nearly there. Numerous nations have also effectively eliminated diseases at the national level. In the U.S., that rundown includes polio and measles—however a widespread measles outbreak this year has put that status in danger.
Feachem hopes the campaign to eradicate malaria will likewise inspire other aggressive goals in the health world. “It raises our ambition and our sense of empowerment to fundamentally improve human health over a wide range of diseases,” he says.