World Malaria Day 2019: Theme- “Zero Malaria Starts With Me”

World Malaria Day 2019: Theme- “Zero Malaria Starts With Me”

Yesterday was World Malaria Day and it reflect on the great harm malaria does. More than 750 million people in our Region are at risk of malaria, which is often deadly and causes tremendous economic hardship. Unlike many diseases found in the developing regions of the world, malaria infection is largely an outcome of rural poverty. However, anyone can get malaria, when exposed to the bite of certain mosquitoes.

But World Malaria Day is also a time for hope. We live in a time when the elimination of malaria is no longer a dream. The theme for World Malaria Day 2019, “Zero malaria starts with me”, connotes this hope and emphasizes country ownership and community empowerment for malaria prevention and care.

Hope is in the air, but we cannot let it overshadow our vigilance. After more than a decade of steady advances in fighting malaria, progress has levelled off. According to WHO’s latest World Malaria Report, the number of malaria cases remained virtually unchanged—approximately 219 million worldwide—during 2015 to 2017. The number of deaths during that same period was estimated at 435 000.

In the WHO Western Pacific Region, some countries are reporting excellent progress: in 2018, China and Malaysia reported no locally-transmitted human malaria cases, and Cambodia for the first time reported zero deaths from malaria. However, the period 2015 to 2017 saw the total number of malaria cases increase from approximately 410,000, to more than 602,000 – a rise of 47%. This increase mainly resulted from outbreaks reported in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and the Solomon Islands, which together account for 92% of the current malaria burden in our Region.

What does “Zero malaria starts with me” mean for the people in affected countries? For governments, it means political and financial commitment. For members of communities including health workers and employers, it means new prioritization of malaria prevention and care. For individuals, it should translate into renewed efforts to become aware yourself, raise awareness among others, and be part of malaria control.

The Regional Action Framework for Malaria Control and Elimination in the Western Pacific 2016-2020 highlights the need to build on past successes and to accelerate progress by strengthening surveillance and prioritizing investments in interventions targeted according to need based on data.

We need strong health systems which detect outbreaks and respond quickly when they occur. This requires effort from all levels: communities, provincial health authorities, and national governments, as well as strategic investments and coordinated action from donors and partners.

The time for decisive action is now. Working together, we can achieve a malaria-free Western Pacific Region.

Commentary by Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific

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