May 5, 2016

Mosquitos. Are. The. Worst. But we’re beating them.

By David Stein

As Congress considers the President’s emergency supplemental funding request to combat Zika, the news surrounding the virus is dim: The first American death from Zika was reported in Puerto Rico; Brazil has registered nearly 100,000 likely Zika cases; and recent studies are showing the disease may affect more babies than originally thought.

At the same time, it is important to remember that thanks to strong American leadership, the world has made remarkable progress in the battle against mosquito-borne diseases. This progress shows that when it comes to fighting the world’s deadliest animal, America has a track record of success around the world. With the right policies, we can win the war against mosquitos.

America’s primary tool to combat mosquito-borne diseases globally is the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). Created in 2005 under President George W. Bush, PMI’s evidenced-based, results-oriented approach has subsequently been embraced and expanded upon by President Obama and Congress. The results from its recently released tenth annual report speak for themselves:

  • Over the past 15 years, more than 6 million lives have been saved. Malaria mortality was nearly cut in half worldwide and new malaria cases fell by 37 percent.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria deaths among children under the age of five declined by 71 percent.
  • Last year alone, the U.S. provided over 42 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and over 57 million antimalarial treatments.

The U.S. isn’t ignoring Zika either. USAID launched a new Grand Challenge to Combat Zika, which calls on innovators from around the world to submit groundbreaking ideas and technologies to address Zika and the potential disease threats of the future. The U.S. will invest up to $30 million to scale up the best of the cutting-edge innovations. USAID hopes to repeat the tremendous success of the Ebola Grand Challenge, which resulted in the creation of several innovations, including a revolutionary new protective suit for health care workers that was created through a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University, DuPont, and Jhpiego.

The work PMI does to strengthen the overall health systems of countries not only helps to combat malaria, but also Zika and other disease threats. For example, the surveillance system Senegal successfully put in place to monitor Ebola was modeled after similar systems that track malaria.

While our gains against malaria have been historic, they should be viewed as a call to action. It is estimated that malaria claims the lives of over 800 children every single day, meaning that in the time it took you to read this article, a child died from malaria.

To achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating malaria by 2030, we need to double down on the investments that work. Given its success over the past decade, the President’s Malaria Initiative embodies this hope for the future.

Photo: Source, USAID