Remarks by Administrator Samantha Power at the Annual World Malaria Day Reception

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Julie, for that kind introduction. We are so grateful for your leadership of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative over the past few months.

I’d also like to start by thanking Malaria No More and the United Nations Foundation for organizing this event, and for your leadership in fighting malaria around the world.

I’m deeply grateful to our partners here tonight: Senator Wicker, Senator Coons, and other members of the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases… representatives from the Malaria Roundtable… and Madame President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Today, malaria is mostly a disease that affects other parts of the world. 

But during the height of the Great Depression, the US recorded over 137,000 cases of malaria, and almost 4,500 deaths. Malaria became such a public health crisis that during World War II, Disney produced a ten-minute public health film about malaria featuring the Seven Dwarves.

To protect the war effort, the government established a malaria control program for military bases and war industries throughout the Southeastern United States—a successful effort that prompted the creation of the CDC in 1946. 

A year later, the new agency began a nationwide campaign to limit the spread of malaria in the US, working with state and local health agencies to install window screens, drain and remove breeding sites, and spray over 4.5 million houses. 

Five years after the beginning of that focused national effort, the U.S. was declared malaria-free.

For a while, thanks largely to the efforts of the people in this community, it seemed like the world was headed down a similar successful path.

Between 2000 and 2019, malaria interventions coordinated by national governments and local health workers, along with the Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, provided funding for mosquito nets, rapid testing, and antimalarial medicines.

In 2019, a group of leading malaria experts predicted that malaria—the world’s oldest pandemic, a disease whose existence can be traced to mosquitos encased in amber from 30 million years ago, whose symptoms are described in cuneiform script—they predicted that this ancient malady could actually be eradicated worldwide by 2050.

All we’d need to do is keep up our efforts.

But those efforts were already starting to waver. While the number of people dying from malaria dropped by 37 percent from 2000 to 2015, it only dropped 1 percent from 2015 to 2019. Meanwhile, the population at risk nearly doubled. 

And yet, while American financial support expanded, funding around the world plateaued, hovering around half of what was needed.

Then came COVID-19. Suddenly, the world’s newest pandemic threatened a resurgence of the oldest one. Disrupted supply chains hindered the delivery of antimalarial drugs. A lack of protective equipment and COVID-19 vaccinations resulted in a shortage of health workers. And families became scared to bring their loved ones into clinics for desperately needed testing and treatment. 

In Uganda alone, 63 percent of young adults reported interrupted access to malaria services.

In fact,  the number of people who died from malaria actually grew in 2020, by 69,000—two-thirds of those directly related to disruptions in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment due to COVID-19.

After the start of the National Malaria Eradication Program in 1947, the CDC saw rates of malaria plummet in the United States. And in 1951, when the disease was finally eliminated. 

Now, as malaria resurges worldwide, we face thousands of cases in the U.S. every year. The vast majority of these cases originate outside of the U.S. And yet, they highlight the threat we still face from malaria… more than 70 years after its elimination.

For all of this, there are some glimmers of hope. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region hit hardest by malaria, community health workers and faith leaders are doing double duty, braving the pandemic to protect their communities—encouraging families to have their homes sprayed, providing mosquito nets, and leading by example by getting tested themselves.

Just last year, El Salvador eliminated malaria within its borders. Today, Thailand and the wider Mekong Subregion are on the cusp of doing the same.

And, of course, this past October, the World Health Organization recommended the use of the world’s first malaria vaccine to prevent deadly and severe cases of malaria in young children. It’s not just the first vaccine to target the elusive, genetically complex malaria parasite—but the first to target parasites at all. And as of last week, over a million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have received at least one dose.

The vaccine is a vital new tool in our fight against malaria. But it’s not a silver bullet. We need a sustained commitment to combat this disease. And that’s why the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative is so very important.

In the last year, the Initiative partnered with the Global Fund and with national governments to deliver insecticide-treated nets, spray homes with long-lasting insecticides, treat pregnant women, and administer preventative care to children during high-risk malaria seasons. These efforts helped health workers detect illness and save lives, and protected more than 700 million people. 

All in all, the efforts of the Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative have helped save over 10.6 million lives and prevented 1.7 billion cases of malaria since 2000. That is an achievement we can, and should, be proud of. And we can build on it in life-changing ways.

In 2015, the world had an opportunity to double down on malaria and eradicate it.

Today, we’re faced with that same opportunity.

We have the tools we need to eradicate this disease. Thanks to the President’s Malaria Initiative, we have the mosquito nets, the sprays, and now, the vaccines. We have global partnerships, like that with the Global Fund, which can help us rally support from other countries. And we have communities battling hard against malaria.

What we need is the funding and the support—for the President’s Malaria Initiative, for the Global Fund, and for the communities who are leading the fight on the ground. 

We have a chance to finally end our enduring battle with this disease. Amid all else that ails this world, let us not waste it.

Thank you so much.

Russell Senate Office Building Washington, D.C.

Last updated: June 21, 2022

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