DAVOS, SWITZERLAND – Jan 20 When it comes to fighting malaria, Bill Gates and Ray Chambers are both inspired and concerned: With victory in sight, will the world's new leaders commit to finally beating this persistent parasite?
In exclusive interviews with Reuters in Davos, Gates and Chambers highlighted uncertainty about leadership changes in the U.S. and in United Nations bodies and what these might mean for funding and commitment to global health.
"The imponderable is what happens with President Trump," said Chambers, the United Nations special envoy for malaria.
"We're just not sure."
Falls in deaths and infections due to the mosquito-borne parasite in the past 15 years are "one of the greatest success stories in the history of public health", Chambers said.
And Gates, whose Gates Foundation commits vast funds to global health projects, said the world has never been closer to ending malaria "once and for all".
But with the disease still killing a child in Africa every few minutes, those eager to finish the job are worried that the presidency of the United States - a crucial funding source for international malaria control efforts - is now passing to a man whose commitment to global health projects is uncertain.
And with looming leadership changes at organizations key to global health and development aid - the heads of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Bank - malaria champions say the risk of setbacks is unnerving.
"With malaria there's no standing still," Gates said. "Malaria is very complicated."
WELL ON THE WAY
It is almost a decade since Gates first dared to revive what in global health circles is known as the "e-word" in relation to this ancient disease.
"We will not stop working until malaria is eradicated," Gates declared in 2007.
Now, half the world's nations are malaria-free, and since 2000, global malaria deaths have dropped by 60 percent. In Africa, where the vast majority of malaria deaths occur, the malaria death rate has come down by more than 70 percent.
But there's still much to do. Despite a steep rise in malaria spending from 2000 to 2010, it has now plateaued.
Funding in 2015 was less than in 2013, with combined international and domestic sources totalling $2.9 billion. Even this is only 45 percent of what malaria experts say is needed annually to reach a target of a 40 percent reduction in malaria incidence and mortality by 2020.
The U.S. is by far largest international malaria donor, accounting for about 35 percent of total funds in 2015, followed by Britain, at 16 percent.
The U.S. government-funded President's Malaria Initiative has been a powerful force in the past decade, and monies for that rose above £600 million in 2016 from $30 million in 2006. –Reuters