THE BLOG

Let's Make Malaria History

18/08/2017 11:13 BST | Updated 18/08/2017 11:13 BST
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It was 120 years ago this month that a British scientist, Sir Ronald Ross, first discovered that malaria was spread by mosquitos. His breakthrough meant that an enemy that had been ravaging humans throughout our history, long misunderstood as a disease caused by bad air (which gave it its name - mal'air'ia) could at last be confronted.

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Since then, Britain has continued to lead scientific and global partnership efforts to defeat malaria and thanks to this success we now have the chance not just to help end this disease, but to do it within a generation.

Given the scale of the challenge you could be forgiven for thinking that people are losing faith a little in international cooperation as the answer to the most pressing problems of our age; what with Brexit and America's withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement. When we have enough on our plate here at home, shouldn't we forget about fine-sounding projects that promise the earth? My answer is a resounding 'No'.

The UK never been in the business of giving up. Just look at our history and see how successful we've been at leading the world in confronting some of its biggest challenges. The United Kingdom has achieved some incredible things and the fight to end malaria is in keeping with that bold tradition. But it will take a united generation of global leaders to make it happen.

We have already come so far. In the eight years since Malaria No More UK set up we've seen international action step up on this key issue, including a tripling of UK Government investment in the fight to end malaria. This has helped deliver remarkable results - driving down deaths by 60% since 2010 saving more than 7 million. As a small, dynamic organisation we have been focused on catalysing this change though leveraging the expertise, energy and drive of influential champions from the worlds of celebrity, sport, fashion, music, media, science, business and government.

From the start we tried to do things differently, most noticeably with our founders and our kick-off champions which included the likes of Peter Chernin, the Hollywood producer, Ray Chambers, a successful business leader who was subsequently made the UN Special Envoy for malaria, and Simon Fuller of XIX Entertainment. They joined the fight for a variety of reasons and have contributed in so many different ways. Simon, for example, who generously incubated our organisation for six years within his own, refers to a dual motivation - the memories of the past and hope for the future. Growing up in Africa, Simon recalls the boyhood worry when his father contracted malaria, he remembers diligently spraying the walls of their bungalow in Ghana to help prevent mosquitos whilst his father was sick, pulling down the net around their beds at night, listening nervously for the buzz of an approaching mosquito: a routine still facing hundreds of millions of people, every, single day.

But it wasn't just childhood memories of the smell of insecticide and the damp, orange, African soil that motivated Simon to take up the malaria challenge. He was far more motivated by the future than the past. As an entrepreneur, Fuller saw both a moral and economic value, particularly the strong return on investment. Every £1 that goes towards malaria control gets a return of £36 in social and economic benefits - a remarkably effective and compelling business case for ending poverty. When a community is protected from the threat of malaria it can thrive. And what is true of one community is true of the planet.

The American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.'

The global malaria campaign is wonderful proof that by working in partnership with a group of committed nations, institutions and individuals we can change history. Following in the footsteps of great successes, including wiping out smallpox and driving down polio, in the last 15 years deaths from malaria have been slashed by more than 60%, with 6.8 million lives saved.

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But there is jeopardy in our mission and a risk that the campaign to end malaria falls victim to this success and that complacency sets in. There's a sense that the job is already done. But unfortunately, this is not the case. This is, quite literally, fatally-flawed thinking because malaria is an extraordinarily adaptive and resilient disease. If we slacken our resolve, the parasite takes advantage. It surges back, develops resistance to drugs and insecticides, expands its reach and can rapidly undo so much of the progress we've already made.

We need a renewed impetus and fresh thinking to stop this happening. A new collective of champions to join our ranks to help us finish the job. Fuller and our other champions have already encouraged the likes of David Beckham, Victoria Beckham and Andy Murray to join us, and their efforts along with the support of ITV's 'I'm A Celebrity' TV show, Comic Relief and the skills of the brilliant Richard Curtis helped draw the public's attention to this vital cause. Seeing the British Prime Minister on the American Idol stage back in 2008 alongside Hollywood stars surprised a lot of people, but the combination of UK and US support helped to re-energise global efforts to defeat malaria and drive the recent success mobilising resources and inspiring action around the world.

We have a golden opportunity to boost this work further next year, on an even bigger scale and at the most crucial time, when world leaders gather in London for the Commonwealth Leaders Summit. Together the Commonwealth represents some 2.4 billion people - 90% of whom live in malaria-affected countries making up 2/3 of the global population living at risk of this devastating disease. This group of countries is, therefore, critical to the future success of the campaign to end malaria. This is a landmark opportunity for the Commonwealth, hosted by the UK, to showcase the impact and importance of global partnership and cooperation by taking its place at the vanguard of the global campaign to end malaria. Helping commit one of humanity's biggest killers to history.

At a time when isolationism, pessimism and scepticism often seem to dominate, the world needs a big win to show that hope and collective ambition can triumph. What bigger win could there be than defeating our oldest and deadliest enemy? I'm ready to work with UK and our partners including Simon Fuller, Andy Murray, Peter Chernin, David Beckham and Graca Machal to play my part, and I have no doubt that millions of others will want to play theirs, too. Let's use the energy of the Commonwealth Summit to help us work faster and better together to make malaria history.

#EndMalaria #WorldMosquitoDay @malarianomoreuk