Malaria elimination in Asia Pacific could lead to large return on investment, new study shows

New research reveals the estimated costs and benefits of eliminating malaria in the Asia Pacific region – including the potential for a large return on investment. Led by the UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences' Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) with support from the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, the Asian Development Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this new body of research is the first to quantify the economic benefits of eliminating malaria in the Asia Pacific region—an achievement that could save 400,000 lives, avert 123 million malaria cases, and generate an estimated USD 90 billion in healthcare savings, as well as savings from lost wages and productivity due to illness. 

The economic evidence and tools will assist countries in the region achieve their goal of eliminating transmission of the disease by 2030. While regional leaders at the highest level have signed-on to this historic goal, the cost of inaction and the risk of a resurgence of the disease—made worse by growing drug and insecticide resistance and declining funding—could result in a reversal of gains made to date. 

Asia Pacific: a global malaria success story 

Countries in the Asia Pacific have made robust progress in the fight against malaria and, in 2014, leaders committed to achieve the goal of a malaria-free region by 2030. The World Health Organization’s 2017 World Malaria Report shows that steady progress is being made towards that goal, and the number of countries with less than 10,000 indigenous cases in the region has more than doubled over the last five years. New evidence confirms that if efforts can be intensified, the Asia Pacific will be on track to achieving its 2030 goal. 

But with global malaria funding on the decline and areas with a lower malaria burden already a lesser priority for donors, countries cannot accept a “business as usual” approach. Although domestic funding has been growing, significant gaps in funding for malaria elimination remain. Given the scarcity of resources, countries must urgently identify and allocate new funding that will be critical to crossing the finish line and ending the threat of malaria once and for all. 

New evidence provides elimination investment case 

The new research uses a dynamic multi-species malaria transmission model – the first of its kind – to evaluate the necessary malaria interventions, and the associated costs and benefits, to achieve and maintain elimination in the Asia Pacific. While the estimated cost of elimination across all 21 malaria endemic countries is not insignificant, it is a short-term cost. According to MEI lead researcher Rima Shretta, “We expect that costs will be most significant over the first few years, and then will start to decrease rapidly. Once countries have eliminated, the cost of maintaining a malaria-free status will be small. If the Asia Pacific region is able to reach its goal of elimination by 2030, they will see economic returns and savings that will significantly exceed the costs.” The potential return on investment of eliminating malaria in the region is a robust six to one, with a potential economic benefit estimated at USD 90 billion. Malaria elimination will also result in 400,000 lives saved and 123 million malaria cases averted. 

Mobilizing and leveraging the expertise and resources of the private sector will be a critical strategy to bridge funding gaps and accelerate progress in the region. The MEI has provided guidance on new approaches for galvanizing and allocating additional resources and mobilizing private sector contributions. The new body of research also includes a tool to support malaria programs in improving programmatic efficiencies to achieve savings and mitigate annual funding gaps. 

Investing in the malaria fight is considered a “best buy” in global health, with the potential economic returns and savings of elimination greatly exceeding the costs. But the growing threat of resistance to the world’s most powerful malaria drugs and insecticides makes accelerated action over the next few years especially urgent. Failure to strengthen funding and intensify programmatic efforts will cause malaria illnesses and deaths to rise, putting global progress achieved over the last fifteen years at risk. 

About the UCSF Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative 

The Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) at the UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences' Global Health Group believes a malaria-free world is possible within a generation. As a forward-thinking partner to malaria-eliminating countries and regions, the MEI generates evidence, develops new tools and approaches, documents and disseminates elimination experiences and builds consensus to shrink the malaria map. With support from the MEI’s highly skilled team, countries around the world are actively working to eliminate malaria—a goal that nearly 30 countries will achieve by 2020. For more information about MEI's impact, visit www.shrinkingthemalariamap.orghttp://www.shrinkingthemalariamap.org/