Counting malaria out: Metrics of success

By Laura Newman, MACEPA Senior Communications Associate

During the first day of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Malaria Forum, numerous statistics were shared that highlighted the incredible progress that malaria-endemic countries have made in fighting the disease in the last ten years. Among them:

  • Deaths caused by malaria have dropped 38 percent, with 43 countries cutting the number of malaria cases in half.
  • One million children’s lives have been saved from malaria.
  • One-third of countries affected by malaria are now on track to eliminate the disease.
  • Seven new countries have eliminated the disease, while ten are approaching near-zero deaths and nine are preparing to begin moving towards elimination.
  • More than 300 million insecticide-treated nets have been distributed since 2008 in sub-Saharan Africa.

These figures stand in stark contrast to the bleak numbers that defined the malaria control landscape even just ten years ago.

During her keynote address, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan quoted the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, who said last month: “In Africa, we used to track malaria by metrics of despair: cases and deaths, wasted life and squandered opportunity. We tracked numbing statistics like the million Africans who died annually from this preventable disease a decade ago.”

As the numbers shared yesterday clearly demonstrate, we’ve come a long way in a short time.

What’s made this incredible progress possible? It’s due to the incredible leadership from the national malaria programs, a strong global partnership, and dramatic increases in funding and political commitments for malaria. We now have more comprehensive, better quality data that speak of success and a bright future.

We’ve moved from a “metric of despair” to one of hope.

What’s in a number anyway? Why does data matter? It helps us know where we been and where we need to go. Not only do these statistics provide benchmarks for success, they also provide important baselines for measuring impact and paint a clear picture of exactly how much malaria a country has, who is affected, and what resources are needed where.  The importance of rigorous data was underscored by many of the speakers during Monday’s events.

Looking forward, collecting data on malaria will only become more important as countries continue to reduce malaria transmission and move towards elimination.  Proper tracking of disease burden ensures that malaria no longer has the ability to “hide” from us – and that every last reservoir of infection will be found and eliminated.

Read the transcript of Margaret Chan’s keynote address.

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