Opinion piece published by The Bangkok Times, 21 October 2019
By Clint Coo, Chief Operating Officer M2030 Limited
Do you know the deadliest animal in the world? You may guess other humans? Snakes, spiders or even some of the large predators? But, no. It’s actually the mosquito. And out of all the many diseases that mosquitos carry, malaria is possibly the biggest killer in human history.
In 2015 alone, the global death toll for malaria was a record high of 438,000. Recently, the World Health Organization revealed that a child dies of malaria every 2 minutes. And each year, more than 200 million new cases of the disease are reported globally[i]. Although countries have dramatically reduced the total number of malaria cases and deaths since 2000, progress in recent years has stalled. Worryingly, in some countries, malaria is on the rise.
You may think we have left the scourge of malaria behind us. Certainly, if you live in Bangkok, in Chiang Mai, or in another urban area, chances are that you believe malaria a thing of the past. But in fact, malaria is still endemic and a common disease in Southeast Asian countries -Thailand included – where millions of populations are still at risk of malaria every year.
And what’s more? We are now facing a new lethal threat: multidrug resistant malaria has emerged in Thailand and our neighboring countries. In Cambodia, 4 out of 6 antimalarial medicines are no longer effective. Meaning, we might soon have malaria strains that are immune to our frontline drugs.
According to public health experts[ii], this is a race against the clock — we must eliminate it before malaria becomes untreatable and we see a lot of new deaths.
So, what’s the recipe for ending malaria? Key ingredients include political will, funding and partnerships.
In Thailand, we have come along way in the fight against malaria. In 1988, researchers estimated that we had 350.000 cases of malaria. Today that number is down to 10.000 cases, representing a ninety-seven percent reduction. Consecutive governments have kept the pressure on malaria, and slowly but surely, pushed malaria further and further out from densely populated areas.
But malaria knows no borders. If we got rid of malaria here, it would still seep back in from our neighboring countries. The only way to root out malaria is through collaboration with our neighbors. Since 2014, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – an international financing institution – has committed over US$350 million for malaria programs, foster regional collaboration, and drive innovations in the countries surrounding the Mekong.
Why is the Global Fund investing so much money? The answer is simple: the threat of drug resistant malaria in our country and region is too grave to ignore. We must end this disease.
On October 10, world leaders came together at the Global Fund’s 6th replenishment conference in Lyon, France. The Global Fund mobilized an unprecedented US$14 billion for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programs for the next three years. These funds will save 16 million lives worldwide. We now have the chance to end this epidemic once and for all. But, we need more partners to step up. Here in Thailand, the Dhanin Tawee Chearavanont Foundation is doing just that. Over the next two years, the Foundation has committed US$2 million to support the Global Fund financed malaria programs in Thailand.
Malaria affects the whole society. We all have a role to play. Politicians, support increases in the Government’s malaria budget. Fellow citizens, make your voices heard and demand actions. Foundations and corporations, consider sharing resources and expertise with organizations fighting malaria.
Remember this year: 2030. The deadline we set to end malaria in Thailand and in whole of Asia-Pacific. Together, we will create a historical feat. Together, we will defeat malaria.
About M2030: M2030 brings together businesses, consumers and health organizations in a unique partnership to eliminate malaria in Asia by 2030
Corrigendum: The piece published in the print version of the Bangkok Post mistakenly included a paragraph on the Dhanin Tawee Chearavanont Foundation. Mr. Coo does not represent the foundation. This has been corrected above.