We are making great strides in fighting malaria.
This was clear during my recent visit to Tanzania. I had heard about the success there, but it wasn’t until I looked at the hospital admissions book in Zanzibar that I saw how big the change was: only one malaria diagnosis in the past six months.
Just a few years ago, the clinic administrator said, there would have been 1,500 cases over the same period.
In 2010, Tanzania is expected to become one of the first African countries offering universal access to two of the most effective malaria weapons: insecticide-treated mosquito nets and affordable drug treatments.
Other African countries, including Ethiopia and Zambia, have also made rapid progress in the past few years.
But there are still places, like Sierra Leone, that desperately need help. One of the world’s poorest countries, Sierra Leone has the highest child mortality rate, largely because of malaria. In fact, malaria accounts for 40 percent of deaths there in children younger than age 5.
Decades of conflict have destroyed health infrastructures and created breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite.
This is a heartbreaking reality for a country far across the Atlantic. But what does it mean for the United States?
There are four reasons why it makes sense for Washington to invest in malaria-control efforts worldwide:
First, President Barack Obama’s Global Health Initiative includes reducing the effects of malaria by 50 percent for 450 million people. Even in the middle of the economic crisis, the Obama administration made global health a priority. This is not just an imperative to help those in need. It’s also because better health means better development — and a stronger global economy.
Second, malaria interventions are cost-effective with a high rate of return. For example, the cost for one insecticide-treated net, including distribution, is about $10. Each net has the potential to save several lives.