Robert Newman

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Malaria is a coiled spring | 

Malaria Mosquito
Flickr, ACJ1

The world has made great strides against malaria, bringing down the estimated global death toll from more than a million — mostly children — to about 650,000 per year today.

That’s been done through a concerted and diversified strategy supported by the international community, through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, Roll Back Malaria, the President’s Malaria Initiative … the list goes on, and on. Countless organizations, public as well as private, have helped distribute hundreds of millions of insecticide-treated bednets, anti-malaria medications, conducted spraying campaigns and worked on a number of fronts to achieve these major gains.

But the situation remains precarious, says one of the world’s leading malaria experts, and malaria today is perhaps  best thought of as a coiled spring held down under pressure.

WHO's malaria chief Dr. Robert Newman describes the massive, mostly hidden, burden of disease
WHO’s malaria chief Dr. Robert Newman describes the massive, mostly hidden, burden of disease

“In one year, if we don’t keep up, we could easily undo this past decade of progress,” said Robert Newman, director of the global malaria program at the World Health Organization. Newman was in Seattle recently and gave a talk at the University of Washington describing the current state of affairs in the battle against malaria. “I’m concerned that we may not be keeping up.” Continue reading

Gates Malaria Forum: Optimism, Urgency and a bit of Kumbaya | 

Analysis

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s Malaria Forum in Seattle comes to an end today and has certainly lived up to its theme of “Optimism and Urgency.”

Tom Paulson

Bill and Melinda Gates speak at Malaria Forum, with moderator ABC News' Richard Besser

There is legitimate cause for optimism, especially if you look at where the world is today in its efforts to combat this leading killer as compared to where we were a decade ago.

Malaria deaths are down, an experimental vaccine is showing modest success against the parasite and this once-neglected disease and poorly funded field is now big news with a lot more money behind it. I think it’s fair to say the Gates Foundation, which has spent $1.5 billion on (and advocated for) malaria efforts over the past decade, is responsible for much of that transformation.

But the Gates Foundation, and to some extent the entire global health community, has a tendency to only want to talk about good news — to be optimistic. It’s understandable, but that also poses a risk.

“It’s been a bit like singing ‘Kumbaya‘ around the campfire,” said one top malaria researcher. It’s nice to celebrate progress, he said, but the structure of the meeting — which included the Gateses’ call for a ‘re-commitment’ to eradication — somewhat tended to discourage dissent and debate. Continue reading