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More than a million African children have been saved from malaria since 2000, yet a child still dies from this disease every 45 seconds. While important progress has been made, much work remains to ensure there are no more deaths from this preventable disease.

This was the theme of a recent congressional hearing, Fighting Malaria: Progress and Challenges. The hearing was hosted by US Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, and ranking member US Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ). 

Witnesses came from leading organizations that are working to end malaria deaths, including PATH, Medicines for Malaria Venture, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Malaria No More as well as the American Enterprise Institute and the US Global Leadership Coalition. They testified about the need to keep up the fight against malaria so that impressive gains made in recent years are not lost.

Keeping up the fight

PATH’s witness, Dr. Rick Steketee, science director of the Malaria Control Program, called those gains “fragile,” adding that if current levels of US and global investments in fighting malaria are not sustained, there is a risk of backsliding. 

Dr. Steketee also emphasized the cost-effectiveness of malaria funding. “In the last decade, funding has gone from $100 million to $1.6 billion,” he said. “That’s a more than tenfold increase in funding, which has been followed by a tenfold reduction in the incidence of infection and has led to the saving of 1.1 million children's lives.”

A promising new vaccine candidate

Other panelists commented on exciting progress in research and development, including the recent release of the first results from a large-scale, Phase 3 efficacy trial of the malaria vaccine candidate RTS,S. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that RTS,S reduces the risk of clinical malaria and severe malaria by 56 percent and 47 percent, respectively, in African children aged 5 to 17 months over one year of follow-up. The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative has partnered with GSK Biologicals and others since 2001 to study the vaccine candidate’s ability to protect young children in sub-Saharan Africa.

US leadership remains crucial

Another prominent theme of the hearing was country ownership. Through the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, more than 42 heads of state are now holding their countries accountable for progress in the malaria fight.

Each witness remarked on the instrumental role the US has played—and will continue to play—in rolling back this infectious, blood-borne disease. Without US leadership through the President’s Malaria Initiative, the National Institutes of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Agency for International Development, the witnesses said the world would not be as close to stamping out malaria as it is now. Bringing malaria deaths down to near zero globally requires continued strong US leadership, along with support from other donor countries, African leaders, and multilaterals, they said.

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Posted December 9, 2011.