Commentary by Erika Larson, MSc, Advocacy & Communications Manager of the Malaria Elimination Initiative at the Global Health Group at University of California, San Francisco
Last week, during the East Asia Summit in Myanmar, leaders from 18 countries in the region committed to eliminating malaria in the Asia Pacific by 2030. The landmark goal states:
19. We reiterated our commitment to the Declaration of the 7th East Asia Summit on Regional Responses to Malaria Control and Addressing Resistance to Antimalaria Medicines. We welcomed the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) Task Force Progress Report 2014 and agreed to the goal of an Asia Pacific free of Malaria by 2030. We tasked the APLMA co-chairs to submit to the 10th EAS in Malaysia a plan for achieving this goal and to implement the recommendations of the APLMA Task Forces.
The Asia Pacific malaria elimination goal is a game-changer not only for its ambitious target, but also for the large geographic region it covers—from Pakistan and India across to the Pacific Islands of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. The Asia Pacific joins two other, and much smaller, regions in declaring a malaria elimination goal: the Arabian Peninsula which seeks to eliminate malaria by 2017 and Mesoamerica and Hispaniola which aims to eliminate by 2020. Recent and remarkable success in Sri Lanka, which has not recorded a local case of malaria since November 2012, provides an inspiring case study for the region.
Beyond country-level benefits, the Asia Pacific 2030 goal has weighty strategic importance: first, eliminating malaria in the region will also eliminate the alarming artemisinin resistance that was first documented on the Thai-Cambodia border and is now spreading westward; second, malaria elimination in Asia Pacific will be a keystone to achieving a global vision of eradication in the next 30 years, as Bill Gates reiterated this month. The Asia Pacific goal directly benefits those in the region, but importantly as a global public good, elimination and eradication has impact on us all.
While the regional goal provides a vision for a malaria-free Asia Pacific in 15 years, the target also provides the political backing and support that national malaria programs need today. Political commitment has the power to sustain financial resources needed for a robust malaria surveillance and response system—the cornerstone of a successful elimination program. This commitment to a malaria-free Asia Pacific comes at a critical time, especially as donors are diverting funding for malaria programs in low transmission settings to other high-burden countries or to other health and development priorities.
The Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) will continue its efforts to maintain the high-level political and financial commitment required to achieve this goal. APLMA's technical counterpart, the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN), has provided a platform for national malaria programs, academic and research institutions, the World Health Organization, donors, and other stakeholders to discuss technical approaches to regional challenges in eliminating malaria. With the announcement of the Asia Pacific 2030 goal, the critical architecture is in place to make sure that strong political commitment, adequate financing, good management, multi-sector approaches, and cross border collaborations are intensely focused on malaria elimination. Now, it is up to donors, the global malaria community, key technical and implementation partners, advocates, and national leaders in the Asia Pacific to create, fund and implement a roadmap to ensure this opportunity and momentum do not pass us by.