Over the past decade a lot of progress has been made to control malaria thanks to the great work of many organizations including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Since 2000, the lives of 1.1 million African children have been saved from malaria. About half the countries where malaria is present have been able to reduce the number of new cases and deaths by 50 percent or more.
A goal we’ve set at the foundation is to eradicate malaria and we’ve learned that to do that, we need to employ a few different strategies.
We were a major funder of the first big bed-net project in Zambia, supporting the distribution of bed nets and getting people to use them. We know this is an effective practice that can save lives, and now, in Zambia, malaria deaths are way down from their peak.
People don’t always like to use bed nets, though, because they can be uncomfortable to sleep under. And mosquitoes are also a threat outdoors and in the day time. So we’ve been exploring additional tools, such as new insecticides and spatial repellents. Spatial repellants—combustible coils, candles, torches and things like that—can be used outside the home, at any time of day, to repel the disease-carrying mosquitoes.
On a trip to Tanzania last fall, Melinda and I visited the Bagamoyo District Hospital, where several thousand children are participating in a trial of a new malaria vaccine. The interim results were very promising. No one has ever created a vaccine for a parasitic disease before, and we’ll need to study the results for a longer time to test its effectiveness over the long term. This has been a good start, though, and I’m very excited about the potential for using vaccines more widely in the future.
All these techniques can be combined to create an effective method to bring malaria levels down. We’ve seen it happen in Zambia—where the hope is that the disease rate is eventually brought down to zero, for a local eradication of malaria.
But malaria fights back. The disease and the mosquitoes that carry it can adapt and resist drugs and insecticides. And the disease can resurge unless countries keep up the fight and achieve full eradication. It’s really important that funding continues for programs like the Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative.
It may take 20 or 30 years to get to complete eradication, but our foundation is committed for the long haul. I’m optimistic that we will get there, and that eradication will have huge benefits.