The WHO South-East Asia Region today renewed its commitment to eliminate malaria by 2030, with countries pledging accelerated action and greater efforts at the sub-national and community levels.
“We need support of all leaders, policy makers, development partners, donors, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil society, and the public to actively support commitments to accelerate progress toward a malaria-free Region,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, addressing a seminar on ‘Malaria High Burden to High Impact’.
At the seminar, ministers of health and WHO endorsed a Statement on Renewed Commitment for Malaria Elimination. The renewed commitment calls for greater efforts to get back on track, with ownership and governance of actions towards elimination being devolved to sub-national and community levels.
It calls for urgently scaling up proven implementation strategies, and adopting newer, innovative strategies such new investments, vector control approaches, diagnostics, antimalarial medicines, and other tools to speed the pace of progress against malaria.
In 2020, the Region had 5 million estimated cases and 8900 estimated deaths – 80% less cases and 77% less deaths compared to 2010 – and the largest decline in any of the WHO regions.
While applauding efforts made by countries that enabled WHO South-East Asia to become the only WHO Region to achieve 2020 global milestone of reducing malaria cases and deaths by 40% against 2015 levels, the Statement cautioned that the achievements so far were not enough to reach the elimination targets.
Maldives and Sri Lanka have maintained their malaria-free status. Eliminating malaria by 2025 continues to be a real possibility in Bhutan, DPR Korea, Nepal, Thailand, and Timor–Leste.
“We have a long way to go to eliminate malaria in all countries. The Region is at a crossroads in the response to malaria elimination. Over the years, we have witnessed either a stagnation or at times reduction in overall funding, contrary to the undeniable need for an increase in funding necessary for malaria elimination,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
The Regional Director called for accelerating efforts to attain and maintain malaria elimination in all countries by implementing key strategic interventions outlined in the Regional Action Plan 2017–2030. These include – ensuring universal access to malaria diagnosis and treatment by enhancing and optimizing case management; universal access to malaria prevention by enhancing and optimizing vector control and increasing sensitivity and specificity of malaria surveillance.
High-burden countries with diverse geographical and population contexts must adopt subnational and locally relevant approaches, ensuring a speedier trajectory that prioritizes the hard-to-reach and underserved, and those at risk of being left behind, Dr Singh said.
“Across each of these areas, investment and innovation will continue to be crucial, with a focus on new vector control approaches, as well as better diagnostics and antimalarial medicines. Drug resistance must be addressed sooner rather than later,” she said.
The renewed commitment statement calls for consistently high level of tailored elimination efforts and focused actions at the sub-national levels to prevent resurgence of cases, cross-border transmission, and achieve malaria elimination.
It also emphasizes on greater domestic funding and diversification of funding sources for malaria elimination along with increased political leadership and new partners to join in the malaria elimination efforts.
Today’s renewed commitment follows earlier pledges by Member countries to eliminate malaria from the Region before or by 2030, made in the 2017 Ministerial Declaration for Accelerating and Sustaining Malaria Elimination and the 2018 Ministerial Call for Action to eliminate malaria in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
Experts and partners, and representatives from The Global Fund, Gates Foundation, USAID, Roll Back Malaria, Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance and Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network, Medicines for Malaria Venture, BRAC (Bangladesh), Save The Children, UNICEF and WHO Collaborating Centres, attended the virtual seminar.