Over the last decade, the world has made major progress in the fight against malaria. Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25%, and 50 of the 99 countries still affected are now on track to meet the 2015 World Health Assembly target of reducing incidence rates by more than 75%. But we are not there yet. Malaria still kills an estimated 660,000 people worldwide each year, mainly children aged under five in sub-Saharan Africa, where I live.
As we commemorate the sixth World Malaria Day it's another opportunity for us to galvanise global efforts against the disease that kills 1,800 children every day (comparable to the number of pupils at three local primary schools in my country, Nigeria), devastating families, communities and slowing down economic development. The world must ask itself: are we simply going to stand by and watch this happen, or take the action that is needed?
The United States' history in combating the disease shows what can be achieved. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, it virtually eradicated malaria through the use of the insecticide DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). While DDT was later banned in the US and many other countries due to its harmful impact on the environment and human health, it was approved by the World Health Organisation in 2000 for indoor use, and in 2006 the organisation began actively supporting its use in malaria control. While there remain many agriculturalists who are set against insecticide, its capacity to control a disease that is putting millions of lives at risk must not be forgotten.
Most of the health issues we have at my local clinic in Lagos are a result of malaria, and if we are to help these people, especially our pregnant mothers and young children, we must act promptly to devise effective ways of eliminating malaria without damaging our health or standard of living. That means established methods like DDT, but we must also use all means at our disposal to save lives for this generation and create a sustainable future for those to come.
We are not going to wait any longer - as a young person, I have founded and led an organisation, HACEY's Health Initiative, to educate over 500 rural women on malaria prevention and treatment, distributing over 300 Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets to mothers of children under five and pregnant women. We are an entirely youth-led organisation, showing what can be achieved through passion and character but also the knowledge of how to combat malaria and competence in delivering these solutions.
It needs to go beyond World Malaria Day - our global fight against this disease is about preventing hundreds of thousands of lives being lost through malaria, and I work daily with health workers, vulnerable children and women in rural communities across Nigeria, supporting them to prevent and treat malaria.
It's time for us all to act by confronting the reality that there are simple, cost-effective solutions that can make a major difference to the lives of thousands across sub-Saharan Africa. From early diagnosis to prompt treatment, anti-malaria medication and treatments to prevent malaria in pregnancies, there are direct actions that can be taken in countries across the region that will have a disproportionate impact on malaria diagnoses.
World Malaria Day is a good time for the western world to recognise that a disease it has largely rid itself of still remains virulent in Africa. The solutions are simple, but delivering them in a concerted way across the countries affected by malaria remains our key challenge. World Malaria Day can be a spur to the more concentrated action that is badly needed.
Isaiah Owolabi is project director and founder at HACEY's Health Initiative, a Lagos-based charity combating malaria in the region. He is also a One Young World Ambassador.Suggest a correction