World Malaria Day is observed on 25 April each year to raise awareness of the global burden of malaria.
This year against the backdrop of COVID-19 it could be easy for malaria to be overlooked and yet, with the pandemic testing the resilience of even the most robust health systems, we should not forget the importance of preventing other infectious diseases in regions of the world where populations are most vulnerable and health infrastructures are oftentimes scarce and fragile. As a company working to improve healthcare and nutrition, and as a leader in the prevention of malaria, Bayer has an important role to play.
A rural disease hindering progress in agriculture
Malaria, a disease of poverty and inequity, still affects half the world population. In 2018, there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria worldwide and 405 000 malaria-related deaths. Ninty-three percent of cases occurred in Africa, with the disease affecting predominantly the rural poor.1
Fifty-six percent of the population in Africa live in rural areas and more than half of the working population is employed in agriculture. Malaria, a rural disease, undermines the food production of the estimated 55 million smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa.2
Those suffering from malaria, or caring for sick family members, are unable to tend crops for their own consumption or for selling at local markets as a sole source of income.
Malaria illness in children impacts their education with families often spending their limited resources on transportation to health clinics and medication to treat the disease. Malaria keeps households in poverty and reduces economic progress and social stability of communities and, in some cases, entire countries.
For more than 60 years Bayer has invested in malaria prevention and today has a global team involved in supporting malaria control programs through the supply of residual sprays for indoor treatment of houses and active ingredients for the manufacture of insecticide treated nets.
“With our expertise in both public health and agriculture, Bayer is seeking new ways to create synergies and better understand correlations between agricultural practices and malaria. If we are able to better support sustainable malaria prevention we will, in turn, help foster sustainable agriculture in developing countries,” explains Aladji Cisse, Head of the Environmental Science unit in Sub-Saharan Africa.
An impressive yet fragile progress
The last two decades have seen a dramatic reduction in the global malaria burden. Thanks to increased financial and political commitments enabling the scale up of effective interventions and better data, global death rates fell by 30 percent between 2010 and 2018.3
“Vector Control interventions remain the most cost effective means to prevent the disease today,” explains Justin McBeath, Market Segment Manager – Malaria Vector Control. “Indeed, more than three-quarters of the averted clinical cases of malaria in the last 18 years can be attributed to insecticide-based vector control tools.”
Since 2010, Bayer has supplied vector control products to protect more than 250 million people from malaria in endemic countries and these solutions have played an important role against the disease, reducing an additional strain on health systems.
In recent years however, the rate of progress against malaria globally has slowed. The fight against malaria is threatened by a number of global challenges including changing mosquito behavior, resistance, climate change and flat budgets. And now as the world struggles to respond to COVID-19, there is a significant risk that prevention and treatment programs for malaria will be disrupted.
Action is needed now, more than ever
The World Health Organization has urged countries to ensure the continuity of malaria prevention and control measures while taking all necessary precautions against spreading infection. “As COVID-19 continues its rapid spread, WHO would like to send a clear message to malaria-affected countries in Africa,” said Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “Do not scale back your planned malaria prevention, diagnostic and treatment activities.”
Now, in the short-term, Bayer is supporting our partners implementing vector control by ensuring our production sites, supply chains and logistics continue to bring life-saving malaria tools to those most in need. And, in the long-term, Bayer continues to invest in research and develop new transformative tools to fight against the disease.
“Today more than ever before, we truly understand the immensity and global nature of infectious diseases. They don’t respect borders and require governments, scientists and academics, innovators, NGO’s and corporations to work together,” says Dr. Jacqueline Applegate, President of Global Vegetable Seeds & Environmental Science. “As the world’s attention focuses on COVID-19, our efforts to eradicate malaria must remain a priority as it is in times of health and economic crises that diseases have the potential to resurge. We simply cannot let our guard down if we are to protect the millions at high risk from malaria, many of whom are farmers, and stop the cycle of hunger and poverty. For Bayer malaria has been – and will continue to be – high on the agenda.”
On this World Malaria Day, and beyond, Bayer joins the voices speaking up on the importance of upholding progress and commitments made in the global fight to end malaria.
To learn more about Bayer’s fight against malaria and other Neglected Tropical Diseases, visit www.vectorcontrol.bayer.com, follow @BayerMalaria, @Bayer4Crops or track the conversation #WorldMalariaDay #ZeroMalariaStartswithMe
1 World Health Organization - World Malaria Report 2019 https://www.who.int/malaria/publications/world-malaria-report-2019/en/
2 Willis D and Hamon N, 2019. Eliminating malaria by 2040 https://gatesopenresearch.org/articles/2-33
3 World Health Organization - World Malaria Report 2019 https://www.who.int/malaria/publications/world-malaria-report-2019/en/