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Welcome News From Across the Pond: Making Malaria a Priority

25/04/2016 03:59 | Updated 25 April 2016

Of all the headlines coming out of America so far this year, the one that excited me most was President Barack Obama's bold call for the world to end malaria.

While it may get lost in the noise of the presidential election and other pressing issues at home and abroad, I firmly believe the fight against malaria is one of the most important endeavours of our time. As the world currently grapples with the spread of Zika--another mosquito-borne disease--and braces for new epidemics that can spread ever more rapidly across the globe and pose a threat to us all, we are closing in on one of the world's oldest and deadliest diseases.

In the past 15 years, the staggering and unprecedented progress made against malaria is a powerful demonstration of what we can do when we come together--across continents and party lines--to confront a global health and human crisis. Americans may not be aware of it, but President Obama has more than doubled funding for malaria during his time in office, building on the legacy of President George W. Bush. Year after year, Congress has made malaria a priority, approving or exceeding budget requests.

In that same time frame, the United Kingdom has also increased its malaria funding. It tripled funding between 2010 and 2015 and has sustained this commitment, having just announced in January continued investment of at least £500 million a year for the next five years. The leadership of the United States and the United Kingdom, together with strong commitments from malaria-endemic countries, has played a key role in saving more than 6.2 million lives since 2000. This "special relationship" has been at the heart of our progress to date and will continue to be vital to ending this disease.

Together, we have beaten back a disease that once killed more than 1 million children a year. And for the first time in history, we have a roadmap for ending malaria within a generation. But we cannot let up. Malaria still threatens nearly half the world's population and kills 438,000 people every year--mostly children in Africa. This disease, like the mosquitoes that carry it, is wily and stubborn. History has shown us that malaria will come roaring back when we look away.

Fortunately, battling malaria enjoys cross-party support here in the United Kingdom, just as it does in America. As U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently said, "Beating malaria is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do for our common security." Similarly, Justine Greening, Britain's secretary of state for international development, said that a healthy, prosperous world is in Britain's interest: "In responding to the needs of the poorest, we address our own too...What benefits them, also benefits us."

Like the United States, we consider anti-malaria efforts one of the best buys in global health. It is a powerful example of aid money spent wisely. The disease is preventable and treatable. Known interventions--sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, rapid diagnosis and treatment--all make a difference. The connection between investment and impact is tangible: A 2,000 percent increase in global malaria funding between 2000 and 2015 led to a 60 percent reduction in the rate of deaths during that same time period.

Continued leadership by the United States, particularly through its funding of the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria--the largest source of funding for malaria control--is critical to bring on other donors and bolster support from leaders in malaria-endemic countries.

Knowing we need to stay a step ahead of this disease, the United States and the United Kingdom have also been leaders in research and development of new tools, including better diagnostic tests and medicines, vaccines, surveillance, and more effective ways of eliminating mosquitoes. We have built strong public-private partnerships, including the recent collaboration between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government to create the £1 billion Ross Fund. Named after Sir Ronald Ross, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902 for his discovery that mosquitoes transmit malaria, the fund will include support for research and development of new malaria drugs, diagnostics and insecticides.

Ending malaria will have a tremendous ripple effect across the globe. Malaria takes the greatest toll on children and pregnant women, mostly in Africa. When we cut malaria cases and deaths, we unlock human potential and drive economic development. Malaria affects education, worker productivity and health costs. Investing in malaria improves the capacity of health systems and reduces inequity. Ending malaria will prove what we can do when we put politics aside and come together to tackle a deadly disease.

While living in Tanzania for more than a decade, I had malaria myself several times and witnessed the terrible burden this disease imposes on families, communities and economies. I agree with President Obama that it is a "moral outrage" that "many children are just one mosquito bite away from death."

The world feels increasingly unpredictable. None of us was prepared for the rapid spread of Ebola or Zika, and another epidemic is surely waiting around the corner. All the more reason for us to seize this unique moment to end the deadliest disease humanity has ever known.

Jeremy Lefroy is a British Conservative Party politician who has been a member of Parliament since 2010. He is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases and a trustee at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Malaria No More, in conjunction with World Malaria Day. To see all the posts in the series, please visit here. To learn more about Malaria No More, please visit here. And follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #WorldMalariaDay.

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