World Malaria Day is upon us and there is much to celebrate. Following a substantial increase in global spending since 2005, most of it thanks to the generosity of U.S. taxpayers, malaria cases and deaths have been declining. But these hard-won gains can easily be undone and history has demonstrated that malaria can come roaring back.
A critical cornerstone of past success, and future ambitions to eradicate this age-old disease, are effective insecticides to control malaria spreading mosquitoes. But environmentalist hysteria has deterred investment into new insecticides and Roll Back Malaria (RBM), a UN-sponsored global partnership of public health and donor agencies dedicated to combating malaria, adds to this problem by deftly avoiding the topic.
RBM recently issued talking points for anti-malaria advocates. The talking points include some sensible and unobjectionable calls to action, such as regional collaboration and sustained funding. Our concern, however, relates to what is omitted.
Among RBM’s statements is the following: “The continued development of new solutions and strategies – including next-generation drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines – is critical if we are to further accelerate gains and mitigate the threat of drug and insecticide resistance.”
RBM’s fear of the environmental lobby is obvious in its failure to call for the urgent need of new insecticides. RBM only mentions insecticides in the context of resistance. Everyone can agree that we need new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines, and billions of both public and private dollars have been invested for decades in search of these essential new tools. Indeed, those research endeavors are entrenched and will continue with or without RBM’s plea.
Those searching for new insecticides have been less fortunate. For years insecticide research has received a mere fraction of the total malaria research investment, whether from public or private sources. While the Gates Foundation, in partnership with some chemical companies, has been investing in the search for new insecticides, much more must be done.