JONATHAN S. GRATION
Malaria has afflicted people for centuries, detrimentally affecting not only health, but also impeding educational achievement, worker productivity, and long-term economic development.
It was estimated in 2007 that globally, malaria kills nearly a million people each year, with most of these deaths occurring in Africa in children under the age of five.
The disease places a heavy burden on individual families and national health systems. Because most malaria transmission occurs in rural areas, the greatest burden of the disease usually falls on low income families with limited access to health care. The cost to the continent in lost productivity is nearly Sh996 billion ($12 billion) a year.
As we observe World Malaria Day on April 25, it is encouraging to note that substantial progress has been made in delivering malaria prevention tools and providing treatment to those with malaria. Progress against malaria is one of development community’s most impressive stories.
Partnerships with host country governments, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Bank Booster Program for Malaria Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others make this possible. The US government also has taken extraordinary steps to curb the spread of this preventable and curable disease.
In this respect, the US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) aims to reduce malaria-related deaths by 50 percent in 19 target countries, including Kenya, by 2014 through four proven malaria prevention and treatment measures: insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs); indoor residual spraying (IRS); appropriate diagnosis and treatment of malaria with artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs); and prevention and treatment of malaria among pregnant women.
In Kenya, the United States (through PMI) has supported the Kenya government’s fight against malaria since 2008 investing over Sh6.6 billion ($80 million).
PMI has purchased and distributed more than three million insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to pregnant women and children. Recently, the US government and its partners supported the mass distribution of nets to people living in the districts most affected by malaria as part of the Kenya government’s policy of universal coverage-one net for every two people.
An estimated six million people have also been protected from malaria through indoor residual spraying and over 12,000 local personnel have been trained to conduct and oversee these spraying activities.
Investing in malaria control is particularly powerful because malaria accounts for such a high proportion of outpatient visits and hospital admissions in children under the age of five-30 to 40 percent in most African countries-and the impact of malaria prevention efforts is evident in homes and clinics.
Effective diagnosis and treatment of malaria is critical in the control of the disease. By the end of 2012, PMI will have procured about two million Rapid Diagnostic Kits to support malaria diagnosis in low-risk and epidemic-prone districts of Kenya. In addition, PMI will buy and distribute over 20 million treatment doses of Artemether-Lumefantrine (AL), the first-line treatment for malaria in Kenya.
In spite of this progress, malaria prevention and control remains a matter of urgent public health for the world, especially in Africa. Removing malaria as a major public health threat is a key part of the US government’s Global Health Initiative and the collective effort to end preventable child deaths.
The United States remains committed in its support to the government of Kenya’s goal of providing appropriate prevention and treatment to at least 80 percent of those at risk of malaria by 2017. As we observe the World Malaria Day in 2012, we strongly believe that together it is possible to eliminate malaria. Pamoja tuendelee kuangamiza malaria!
(Gration is the US ambassador to Kenya).