Five years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) instituted World Malaria Day to bring attention to one of the planet's most widespread and deadly infectious diseases. Recognized on April 25, World Malaria Day promotes a critical goal: ending malaria deaths by 2015.
Although malaria was eliminated in the United States more than half a century ago, we have a national interest in supporting efforts to combat the disease worldwide. According to WHO, almost half of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria, with most deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and in children under the age of five. The international health agency says there are about 216 million malaria cases every year, resulting in an estimated 655,000 malaria deaths.
Although this life-threatening disease, which is spread by mosquitos, is preventable and curable, it still afflicts many Americans who travel to affected regions, including our troops serving overseas. The Army Times newspaper recently reported that cases among service members in Afghanistan are the highest in nine years.
Mississippi Helps Lead the Way
Our state is combating malaria in many meaningful ways. For more than two decades, researchers at the University of Mississippi have worked on anti-malarial compounds and the development of a new class of drugs to treat the disease. Cutting-edge research is imperative as resistance to existing malaria drugs continues to grow. At Ole Miss and elsewhere, private-public partnerships are instrumental to the advancement of affordable and effective ways to diagnose, treat, and vaccinate.
Making Measurable Progress
Last week, I introduced a resolution in the Senate with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) recognizing World Malaria Day and reaffirming America's commitment to a malaria-free world. As a co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Working Group on Malaria, I am encouraged by the measurable gains that have been made.
Inexpensive medicines and insecticide-treated bed nets are proven methods of treatment and prevention. These interventions are widely recognized as investments with valuable dividends. Less than 1 percent of America's budget is spent on global health programs, and millions of lives are being saved in return. According to the WHO's World Malaria Report 2011, malaria deaths have fallen by more than 25 percent worldwide since 2000. They are down by a third in Africa.
Promoting International Security
Because the persistence of malaria has far-reaching social and economic effects, measures to eliminate the disease do more than save lives. For many developing nations, malaria threatens to perpetuate a cycle of poverty, which can lead to unstable conditions prone to violence and extremism. The elimination of malaria is clearly a win for international security as well as a moral responsibility to advance global health.
In Congress, both parties recognize the importance of putting an end to malaria once and for all. I look forward to America's continued leadership in the fight against this terrible disease and how its elimination will improve the quality of life for millions across the globe. As we observe World Malaria Day this Wednesday, I commend those at the frontlines of malaria control, and I am hopeful in the great strides yet to be made.