Eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific could save 400,000 lives

25 April 2019 Bangkok (Thailand) – Increased funding is needed to eliminate malaria across 22 Asia-Pacific countries and save an estimated 400,000 lives, according to research published in a new collection of studies on Wellcome Open Research.

Although Asia-Pacific countries have made significant progress towards their goal of eliminating malaria by 2030, the collection warns that stagnating donor funding puts at risk national malaria programme efforts and access to lifesaving drugs and other tools that could, under one potential scenario, result in as many as 845 million more malaria cases and 3.5 million deaths.

“This evidence-based investment case for the region comes from preliminary estimates to quantify the economic benefits of eliminating malaria, which could save hundreds of thousands of lives, avoid millions of malaria cases, and generate billions in healthcare savings, as well as savings from lost wages and productivity due to illness.” said collection advisor and study author Prof Richard Maude from the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok.

“While the cost of eliminating malaria in the Asia Pacific is not insignificant, it will result in a large return on investment. For every additional dollar spent, there was predicted to be an overall economic benefit of USD $6 for the affected countries.” said study author Rima Shretta, Director of Financing, Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) and formerly at the Malaria Elimination Initiative (MEI) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Global Health Group.

Study author Prof Lisa White of MORU adds, “We made these preliminary estimates using a first of its kind multispecies mathematical and economic modelling approach supported by estimated disease burden and from this we could develop an evidence-based investment case for the region.”

Eliminating malaria in Asia-Pacific by 2030 is realistic, with important human benefits – but only if adequately funded, say the study authors, who note that it is important to put pressure on donors and decision-makers to continue funding current efforts.

“In the current climate of decreasing global malaria funding, countries with a lower malaria burden are becoming a lesser priority for donors, but sustained financing needs to be secured to realise this goal of P. falciparum and P. vivax elimination in the Asia-Pacific by 2030.” said study author Sheetal Silal from the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

“We hope to raise awareness of the need for increased investment to eliminate malaria and also the potential overall economic benefits of this investment.” said Prof Maude.

“The Asia-Pacific region needs to intensify efforts and robust investment must be maintained, particularly through fully funding the Global Fund which remains an incredibly impactful lever for driving increases in domestic funding in the region. If gaps in funding are not addressed, we risk putting lives at risk and undoing years of hard work to eliminate malaria,” said Chris White, MEI co-director.

The articles in this collection include three research articles, an article on the new software tool and an editorial summarizing the new body of research. All are freely available online on Wellcome Open Research, and will undergo open peer review, where all reports are published alongside the articles together with the authors’ responses.