13 December 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on 2011 World Health Organization Malaria Report


Although malaria mortality rates had fallen significantly, a projected funding shortfall threatened that progress, leading experts in the fight against the disease said at Headquarters today.

At a press conference to launch the 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) World Malaria Report, Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, said the numbers showed that “bold leadership and partnership” were saving millions of lives, with malaria-specific mortality rates down 5 per cent in the past year and 25 per cent in the past decade.  But with malaria responsible for 655,000 deaths in 2010, she warned that “unless we maintain our commitment to scale up the proven, cost-effective tools we have to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria, today’s gains will be reversed and we will lose many more lives to this disease”.

Joining Ms. Coll-Seck by video link were Robert Newman, Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, and Ray Chambers, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria.

Dr. Newman said that death rates remained disconcertingly high for a disease that was entirely preventable and treatable.  “In 2011, no one should die from malaria for lack of a $5 bed net, a 50 cent diagnostic test and a $1 anti-malarial drug,” he said, pointing out that 50 per cent of households in sub-Saharan Africa now had at least one bed net, with 96 per cent of those with access using them.  Public-sector testing for the disease in Africa had risen from 20 per cent to 45 per cent between 2005 and 2010, and 43 million more rapid diagnostic tests had been distributed in 2010 than in 2008.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that resistance to insecticide was a problem, with 45 countries worldwide, including 27 in sub-Saharan Africa, having identified it as being due partly to heavy reliance on a single class of insecticides, known as pyrethroids.  The future depended on securing more resources, he said, stressing that despite a funding increase from $1.7 billion in 2010 to $2 billion in 2011, both figures were well below the $5-6 billion needed annually to meet global anti-malaria targets.  By 2015, funding was expected to decrease to $1.5 billion, putting the hard-won gains of the preceding decade under threat, he warned.

Mr. Chambers also called for more funding, urging the United States to follow the United Kingdom’s lead by increasing anti-malaria funding, and calling on endemic countries to improve their own efforts.  Leaders should “step up and make sure that malaria is at the top of the political agenda”, he added.  Expressing pride in the accomplishments made in attacking the disease, he applauded the one-third reduction of deaths in Africa and the decline in the number of malaria-related deaths to one child every minute.  However, that was “still one child and one minute too many”, he said, adding that more work was needed to reach the Secretary-General’s target of near-zero deaths by 2015.

Both Mr. Chambers and Ms Coll-Seck referred to the difficult time faced by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which would be unable to commit new funds before 2014 and which would cut existing resources by 25 per cent.  The Fund, Ms. Coll-Seck said, accounted for two thirds of global malaria financing, and losing its contribution would be “devastating” for the global fight against the disease.

Asked what was being done to ensure that donors increased their resource commitments, she said the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy had negotiated increased World Bank donations to countries fighting the disease, while all partners in the fight against malaria were trying to mobilize others to join in.  A particular focus had fallen on Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China, which needed to do more, she said, adding that despite successes in raising resources, funding it was still not high enough.

When asked about national anti-malaria programmes, she said the international community was not solely responsible.  Much work had been done to push countries to invest 15 per cent of their budgets in health, she said, recommending taxes on alcohol and tobacco to supplement international funding.

Asked what specific improvements she hoped for, she said she wished to see the use of bed nets lasting five years instead of two.

Responding to a question about the lessons learned from the supposed failure of the Massive Good Project, Mr. Chambers said ideas on innovative financing were still being tested, and much like venture capital, not every idea could succeed.  UNITAID’s (International Drug Purchase Facility) idea of a financial transaction tax had gained traction and several countries had adopted the idea, he noted, stressing the importance of such innovative mechanisms, given the decline in established funding sources.

On the prospects of success for a new vaccine, Dr. Newman said that RTS,S vaccine trials had shown encouraging results in October, with protection efficacy of about 55 per cent in 12 months following vaccination.  Those, however, were preliminary results and trials would continue, he said, adding that they had been restricted to Africa, where a vaccine wouldpotentiallymake the most difference.

Ms. Coll-Seck added that the vaccine was tailored to plasmodium falciparum, the particular type of parasite killing people in Africa.  Much work was taking place on other continents, increasing capacities in different countries, and approximately 20 vaccines were currently being developed, but that was the most advanced one, she said.

For information media • not an official record