Believe it or not, humans are winning the millennia old fight against Malaria. Last year about 500,000 people died from the disease, mostly in sub-saharan Africa. Fifteen years before that, the death toll was about double that, and the geographic reach of malaria deaths much wider.
This sharp drop in the number of worldwide malaria deaths coincided with the advent of the Millennium Development Goals and key global institutions like the Global Fund. There was finally a common worldwide goal to reduce malaria deaths, embraced by governments and civil society, and institutions to help accomplish that goal. A scourge of humanity is on a rapid and precipitous decline.
There’s no silver bullet to defeat malaria (though insecticide treated bed nets probably come close!). This video from UNICEF shows how one simple “innovation”–a trained healthcare worker on a motorcycle — can make a big difference.
It’s sometimes useful to take a step back from 15 year targets like the Millennium Development Goals and the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (which would last from 2015 to 2030) and look at trends like this through world historic lenses. By some estimates, Malaria has killed over half the human population who ever inhabited the planet–about 54 billion people since the dawn of humanity. Now, experts are credibly speaking about worldwide eradication of the parasite. (See below). This probably will not happen in the next 15 years, but if present trends continue, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for happening in my own lifetime.
We are in a new axial age in which people are deciding to use scientific progress and human advancement to eradicated diseases that have had the upper hand for most of human history. This is world historic stuff!
Tomorrow, April 25 is World Malaria Day. This is a good moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the challenges ahead. The theme this year is #DefeatMalaria — as in, humans are finally on a path to rid the world of this parasite. If you have 15 minutes and want an inside account of how this is being accomplished, I recommend you listen to my conversation with Martin Edlund of Malaria No More.