In the past 10 years, the number of people who die from malaria has declined 20 percent.
For the past three days, the global malaria community has been meeting in Seattle, talking about what it’s going to take to get rid of the other 80 percent. The eradication of malaria is an ambitious goal and a long-term goal—but a goal Melinda and I are 100 percent committed to.
People used to say eradication was impossible, but we remain optimistic because human beings have a spectacular ability to innovate.
The tool that’s most associated with the recent progress against malaria is the long-lasting bed net. Bed nets are a fantastic innovation. But we can do even better. We can invent new ways to control the mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite.
One of the problems with nets is that they can be uncomfortable to sleep under, so people sometimes chose not to. Researchers are testing spatial repellents that drive mosquitoes away right now. A family could hang a small coil from the ceiling and be protected, without having to accept a terrible night’s sleep.
One innovation the malaria community has been pursuing for decades is a vaccine. We have never had a vaccine for a parasitic disease, and the scientific complexity is dizzying. But at this week’s meetings I was pleased to announce interim results from the final-phase of a trial for a vaccine candidate called RTS,S. Among five to 17-month-old children, the vaccine prevented clinical malaria (which was defined as the presence of fever and parasites in a child who was ill and brought to a health facility for care), in 56 percent of trial participants over a period of one year. We still need to analyze the complete data when it’s available, but this vaccine could be licensed and protecting children by 2015.
We’ll keep on innovating and improving on this vaccine, but these results are a huge milestone in the history of our fight against malaria.
The malaria parasite has been killing children and sapping the strength of whole populations for tens of thousands of years. It is impossible to calculate the harm malaria has done to the world. But we have the ability to make generation after generation of better tools, and we can chart a course to end malaria.