Security was tight as we arrived at the Malaria Summit yesterday, unsurprisingly given that 16 Heads of Commonwealth States, HRH Prince of Wales and the Duke of York would be arriving later in the day! Malaria is a particularly pertinent issue to the Commonwealth, where 90% of the population are at risk.
The summit was convened by Malaria No More UK, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the aim of urging Commonwealth leaders and policy makers to commit to halving malaria in the next five years. Target Malaria had been invited along as innovators in the development of new tools to fight malaria. Bill Gates gave a greatly informative opening talk, showing an ‘impatiently optimistic’ plan for malaria reduction going forwards, which included the potential for using modified mosquitoes alongside other existing and novel tools. He also stressed the importance of never becoming complacent, as the recent stall in reduction of malaria cases, and return of malaria to countries with zero reported cases has shown. As a population geneticist, I also found encouraging his urge to leverage genetic data from the parasite and mosquito to spot problems like drug and insecticide resistance before they start having an impact on human disease cases.
The charismatic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus) gave a moving personal account of malaria, which gave food for thought about the ongoing debilitating effect malaria can have throughout one’s life. Youth advocates from Malawi and Nigeria spoke about taking on the fight against malaria themselves; as Dr Elvis Eze said ‘We do not want to pass on this challenge to the next generation’.
In the afternoon, the sense that this was a historic day in the combat against malaria became more and more evident. Bill Gates made an address to the Heads of State where he pledged an extra 1 billion dollars of funds to malaria research and development over the next 5 years. HRH Prince of Wales also addressed the gathered dignitaries, lending his support to renewed efforts to combat this preventable and treatable disease.
Each of the country leaders made promises to step-up their malaria control efforts. To highlight one of the commitments, Uganda (partner country of Target Malaria) committed to establish a dedicated malaria fund – the Presidential Malaria Fund Uganda (PMFU) – to help mobilize additional resources of $785 million by 2020 to accelerate national progress against malaria. Later, the writer and director Richard Curtis noted ‘it is good to make promises; it gives us something to strive towards’.
Every 2 minutes a child dies of malaria. According to Roll Back Malaria, yesterday’s Malaria summit secured over 4 billion US dollars in commitments to drive this figure down. A historic day indeed!