Regional Director’s Speech for World Malaria Day 2017

25 April 2017, New Delhi, India

Friends and colleagues,

Today we commemorate the tenth World Malaria Day – a day on which we come together to highlight progress against malaria and take stock of the challenges we face.

Over the past ten years, and indeed, since the turn of the millennium, the world has made significant advances in reducing malaria’s deadly burden.

Between 2000 and 2015 new malaria cases fell by 37%. Malaria mortality was slashed by 60%, with the Millennium Development Goal of halting and reversing malaria incidence convincingly met.

The South-East Asia Region is part of this story. The Region reached the malaria-related MDG target, and between 2010 and 2015 cut case incidence by an estimated 54% and the malaria mortality rate by an estimated 46%.

As per the SDG Agenda, the world is now aiming to “end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases” by 2030. I am pleased to share that our Region is making solid progress.

In 2015 and 2016 respectively, Maldives and Sri Lanka were certified malaria-free – a truly stunning achievement. Bhutan is now striving for elimination by 2018 – an exciting prospect. Nepal has not reported a malaria death since 2012. Timor-Leste has sharply reduced its caseload, which is now at less than 100. India, which accounts for 89% of the Region’s estimated malaria burden, is rolling out its national malaria elimination framework 2016-2030. In Indonesia, almost half of subnational malaria-endemic units are now malaria-free.

Indeed, all countries in our Region now have national strategies in place aiming to eliminate malaria by or before 2030. Region-wide resolve to end the malaria epidemic – alongside the HIV and TB epidemics – has been abundantly clear at recent consultations, and is immensely inspiring.

Nevertheless, the road ahead is not an easy one.

Our Region has the world’s second highest malaria burden. Malaria remains endemic in nine of the Region’s eleven countries. Multi-drug resistance – including to artemisinin-based combination therapies – is an ever-present threat, as is resistance of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes to insecticides. Across the Region, domestic funding for malaria prevention and control has declined, even as the need for more innovative and localized solutions has increased.

Friends and colleagues,

Renewed focus is needed. As the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day emphasizes, enhancing prevention is a critical means of closing the gap and ending malaria for good. Though policy must always respond to local needs, there are powerful strategies that can accelerate gains.

Key among them is vector control. By controlling the mosquitoes that transmit malaria we can significantly diminish the disease’s burden. Two highly effective ways to do this is by ensuring affected communities have access to long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets, and by carrying out indoor residual spraying. In 2015 alone residual spraying was estimated to protect 106 million people worldwide, including upwards of 41 million in India.

Ensuring these tools reach vulnerable groups is essential. Malaria transmission occurs primarily among hard-to-reach, often disadvantaged or neglected communities, including migrant or mobile populations. These communities must be empowered to act, and must be fully engaged in programme implementation. Nevertheless, even within these communities, special efforts must be made to protect pregnant women and children under five years of age. There are a number of strategies that can do this, and which antenatal services in high-risk areas must be in a position to deploy.

As part of a wider push, countries should invest in and harness the latest technological advances. New vector control interventions, improved diagnostics and new anti-malarial medicines all hold out the prospect of driving world-beating progress. Meeting the 2030 targets requires agile thinking and a willingness to be bold, meaning all avenues must be explored, and all effective tools embraced. This is particularly important given the threat posed by multi-drug and insecticide resistance.

Friends and colleagues,

Our Region has shown what it can achieve. Each of us is familiar with the significant gains South-East Asia has made in recent years, from being certified polio-free to eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus. Achieving a malaria-free Region must be added to this impressive arc of progress. Through strong political commitment, integrated strategies aimed at reaching the unreached, and a willingness to harness the power of cutting-edge tools, malaria’s centuries-long burden can be lifted. We can eliminate malaria across our Region; we can end malaria for good.

I wish you an informative and inspiring World Malaria Day.

Thank you.