I'm a firm believer in Winston Churchill's adage, "No one should waste a day". World Malaria Day (25 April) is most definitely a day we don't want to waste because the stakes in the battle against the world's oldest disease are so incredibly high. When every day, a child dies every minute from a wholly preventable and treatable disease , it's even more important not to waste it. Not least because tremendous efforts by the international community and malaria-endemic countries have over the past 15 years delivered extraordinary progress. Deaths worldwide have been halved and some global leaders are talking seriously about the potential to eradicate the biggest single killer disease of children. But this progress will be in real jeopardy if the energy and funding for the malaria campaign dissipates in coming years - something that we witnessed in the 1970s when declines in funding for malaria programmes lead to massive resurgence. Which is why this World Malaria Day it's most certainly #AllToPlayFor.
We have just seen the final trial results published of a possible malaria vaccine (RTS, S) that, if approved, recommended and correctly deployed, has the potential to prevent millions of cases of malaria. It's the culmination of 30 years work and a strong Public Private Partnership that represents the type of innovation, determination and partnerships required in our fight against malaria. The world's first malaria vaccine - and first vaccine against a parasite - could be an important additional tool to fight malaria. And we should be rightly proud of the role British scientists, including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and businesses such as GSK have played in the development of this vaccine candidate.
But we are reminded by new research also just released that where health services are weak and crumbling, it can take just one outbreak of a disease to bring health provision to its knees leaving populations vulnerable as hospitals and clinics are unable to provide necessary care, life-saving treatment and preventative interventions for diseases such as malaria. According to a study co-authored by Dr Azra Ghani from Imperial College (and a Policy Advisor for Malaria No More UK), the Ebola epidemic has resulted in 3.5 million extra cases of malaria and 11,000 additional malaria deaths last year due to the disruption of health care services and the interruption of the delivery of mosquito nets in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. These new estimates suggest that the number of malaria deaths that could have been prevented if health services weren't collapsing under the strain of the Ebola crisis were the same as the number of those who actually died of Ebola. It underscores the huge problems faced in the absence of strong, basic healthcare services and, on an immediate practical level, the need to implement emergency malaria control strategies in the Ebola affected countries who are heading into the rainy season, when malaria transmission is at its highest. We need to ensure that bed net coverage returns to pre-Ebola levels and mass drug administration happens if we are to prevent even more needless malaria deaths in these countries.
Inadequate healthcare systems affect many developing countries, not just those in the eye of the Ebola crisis, and we hope that the recent experience in West Africa triggers increased commitment and investments in stronger and more resilient basic health services in all those countries that need it. Yet in spite of this it has still been possible to tackle malaria and save 4.3 million lives since 2000. At the risk of relying too much on Mr Chruchill, I share his belief that "Success always demands a greater effort". With our recent success in driving down malaria cases and deaths, now is the time for greater effort, not less. Because this World Malaria Day it's clearly #AllToPlayFor.