A new era has begun for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the stakes are as high as they have ever been. With the transition to a new Director-General - Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyes was elected yesterday - WHO faces many challenges, from the need for reform to emergency response preparedness and the rising burden of non-communicable disease. But alongside those challenges come huge opportunities. Opportunities to build on the strong and proud history that has seen WHO lead the fight to eradicate smallpox and polio; help take on the tobacco industry; and spearhead wider access to HIV treatments. Now what WHO has within its sights is ending malaria. For good.
Dr Tedros knows only too well what can be achieved in battling the world's oldest disease. His own pioneering work in health includes the design and roll out of a dynamic malaria control strategy in Ethiopia that has protected 50 million people at risk and slashed deaths by more than half. Since the strategy was introduced there hasn't been a major outbreak of malaria and it is one of the few Sub Saharan countries who've made progress and met the 2015 global goal of halting and reversing the incidence of malaria. As Chair of the Board of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria - the largest funding mechanism for malaria - Dr Tedros helped lead an organisation central to the unprecedented global progress in malaria which has saved over 6.8 million lives since 2000 and seen the disease eliminated in 17 countries in just 15 years
As he prepares to start his new role, Dr Tedros has the opportunity to accelerate this global progress, something desperately needed as half the world's population lives at risk of malaria and a child still dies every two minutes from this entirely preventable and treatable disease.
The global community has agreed what needs to be done. Malaria affected countries have joined with donors such as DFID and USAID, organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and companies such as GSK, Sumitomo and Vestergaard. We need to reduce malaria infection rates and do it faster. We need to stand by the ambitious goal of eliminating malaria in more countries. We need a sustained and enhanced technical focus. We need an increase in funding. But above all we need global leadership from Dr Tedros to ensure activation of this global plan. A plan that if the world gets it right, will see the reduction of malaria cases and deaths by at least 90%, and the elimination of malaria in at least 35 countries by 2030.
The additional imperative is the growing threat of resistance. Evidence that mosquitos are becoming widely resistant to the insecticide used on bed nets and multidrug-resistant malaria superbugs that have taken hold in parts of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia threaten to undermine progress against the disease. Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) was a key topic for the recent G20 Health Ministers Meeting hosted by Germany and is being discussed this week at the WHA. International action is urgently required. We have to stay one step ahead of the game in developing new tools to fight malaria and the investment needed to deliver these. We've seen resurgences in the past - if you let it, malaria comes back with a vengeance. We simply cannot risk the progress so many have worked so hard to achieve, including WHO.
As I wish Dr.Tedros well with the challenges ahead, I also call on him to seize the once in a lifetime opportunity to end malaria within a generation. We have a global #MalariaGameplan: a plan to build on the gains made; a plan to stop malaria from creeping back; a plan to finish the job for good.