To mark World Malaria Day 2020, I wrote for The Times Red Box in my capacity as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria & Neglected Tropical Diseases. You can read my column here:
“In recent weeks our lives have changed beyond recognition. Empty streets with boarded-up shops and pubs are the norm and we spend our time in an endless cycle of video calls, trying to stay connected to the ones we love and miss the most. These unprecedented changes to our lives all have one single purpose: to protect our health service so that our NHS heroes can save lives.
Tomorrow is World Malaria Day, an opportunity to highlight the amazing progress we, as a global community, have made in fighting endemic diseases and supporting health systems across the world. But as Covid-19 continues to spread to countries already battling diseases like malaria, it is also vital that we are aware of the real and current danger to the progress we have made, and most importantly, to hundreds of thousands of young lives put at risk by a potential malaria upsurge.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I’m proud of the UK’s strong record on tackling malaria. As the second largest international donor, we’ve been at the forefront of efforts that have helped to save seven million lives and prevented more than one billion cases since 2000.
Every pound spent not only helps stop the spread of the disease but also makes stronger the crucial frontline of health services around the world. The combination of our investment and the work of our science and research base has helped health workers to do their jobs more effectively and to build strong supply chains and real-time information gathering systems, which ensure that vital services are delivered to the right people, in the right places, at the right time.
Right now Covid-19 poses a huge threat to this historic progress. In 2014 to 2016, when the world was focused on fighting ebola in Africa, we saw the impact it had on the already strained national health systems of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Malaria control efforts were curtailed leading to a resurgence in malaria cases and deaths.
We are in danger of seeing a similar trend, this time in an exponential number of countries, unless urgent steps are taken. As countries impose the social distancing measures needed to control the spread of Covid-19, the danger is that vital supplies of anti-malaria tools are grounded and health workers are overwhelmed as they try to manage the multiple threats to the people they care for, without the protection they need.
Indeed, according to new modelling from the World Health Organisation and partners, severe disruption to insecticide-treated net campaigns and other activities could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa unless we act now. This would represent a return to mortality levels last seen 20 years ago.
All focus right now must be on helping to ensure that planned distributions of bed nets and other malaria prevention, detection and treatment services continue, and health workers are supported and protected. Hundreds of thousands of young lives depend on it.
But it’s not just about lives being lost now. Unless we act urgently, we could see an upsurge in malaria that could take many years to get back under control, resulting in many more lives being lost into the future. Respond now, and we can save these lives. When we emerge from this crisis the UK must continue its global role, leading by example to rid the world of this terrible disease once and for all — and make it possible still in our generation.
For only then can we truly help countries build health systems that can withstand the pandemics of the future, and get on track to a future of prosperity, with all the benefits that that brings for everyone.”