Malaria can be wiped out by 2050, says report

A worker spraying insecticide at a village in Bangkok in 2017. Malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, infected about 219 million people in 2017 and killed around 435,000 of them. PHOTO: REUTERS
A worker spraying insecticide at a village in Bangkok in 2017. Malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, infected about 219 million people in 2017 and killed around 435,000 of them. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Malaria can be eradicated within a generation, global health experts have said.

In a major report on Sunday, 41 specialists said a future free of malaria can be achieved as early as 2050.

This contradicted the conclusions last month of a malaria review by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the experts urged the WHO not to shy away from this "goal of epic proportions".

But to meet that target, governments, scientists and public health leaders need to inject more money and innovation into fighting the disease and the mosquitoes that carry it, the report said - something that requires "ambition, commitment and partnership like never before".

"For too long, malaria eradication has been a distant dream, but now we have evidence that malaria can and should be eradicated by 2050," said Dr Richard Feachem, director of the Global Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-chaired a review on malaria eradication commissioned by The Lancet medical journal.

The Lancet Commission's view comes a few weeks after the WHO published its own report on whether malaria can be wiped out, concluding that eradication cannot be achieved soon, and that setting unrealistic goals with unknown costs and endpoints could lead to "frustration and backlashes".

In contrast to the Lancet Commission, the WHO report said the priority now should be to lay the groundwork for future eradication "while guarding against the risk of failure that would lead to the waste of huge sums of money (and) frustrate all those involved".

 
 
 

The Lancet report, however, said that rather than slogging on with steadily reducing malaria cases, the global health authorities could "instead choose to commit to a time-bound eradication goal that will bring purpose, urgency and dedication" to the fight.

Malaria infected about 219 million people in 2017 and killed around 435,000 of them - the vast majority babies and children in the poorest parts of Africa. Due to ongoing transmission, half the world's population is still at risk of contracting malaria and globally it kills a child every two minutes.

These figures are little changed from 2016, but global case numbers had previously fallen steadily, from 239 million in 2010 to 214 million in 2015, and deaths from 607,000 in 2010 to around 500,000 in 2013.

For the goal of stamping out the disease by 2050, the report's authors proposed three ways to speed up malaria's decline.

Existing malaria-fighting tools such as bed nets, medicine and insecticides should be used more smartly, they said, and new tools such as vaccines should be developed.

Also, governments in both malaria-hit and malaria-free countries need to boost investment by about US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) a year to accelerate progress.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2019, with the headline 'Malaria can be wiped out by 2050, says report'. Print Edition | Subscribe