Racing Against the Clock: Why Malaria is a Solid and Necessary Investment for Us All

Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré
Executive Director of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership

Dr Nafo-Traoré brings to the RBM Partnership a wealth of expertise in maternal and child health, malaria control and health systems strengthening, as well as significant leadership experience in facilitating global, regional and country- level partnerships.

After distinguishing herself as the Director of an important sector investment program (SIP) and as Health Specialist at the World Bank in Bamako, she served as Minister of Health and also Minister of Social Affairs, Solidarity and the Elderly in Mali from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, Dr Nafo-Traoré was appointed as the first RBM Executive Secretary and later on as Director of WHO/RBM Department. She subsequently served as a WHO representative to the Congo and Ethiopia.

Over the past fifteen years, Dr Nafo-Traoré has helped strengthen the health sector in a number of countries across Africa. She has served the African health community in different capacities, including as President of the Assembly of ECOWAS Ministers of Health and member of different working groups and regional mechanisms.

In her recent positions, she facilitated efforts to implement the Paris Declaration on AID effectiveness and the UN reform Delivery as One initiative (2006-2012). She also nurtured a policy dialogue among ministries and diverse sectors of the society to anchor health in key national agendas and increase domestic funding for health. She worked with bilateral, multilateral and national actors to develop a health sector plan, which proposed, inter alia, strategies to manage a human resources crisis and improve health information systems.

As Head of a Sector Investment Programme, she oversaw a US$ 350 million multi donor initiative to support the implementation of a national investment programme in Health, Water and population and ensure that control interventions for major endemic diseases are rolled out in a coordinated and complementary fashion.

In addition to leading strategic efforts at the country level, she has provided strategic and technical guidance to global health initiatives and partnerships, including as Member of the Board of GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) and as Member of the UNAIDS/WHO technical working group in 2001-2002.

Dr Nafo is currently a Board Member of the Global Fund to fight HIV, TB and Malaria. Also a Board member of IVCC (Innovative Vector Control Consortium) and MMV (Medicines for Malaria Venture).

Dr Nafo-Traoré was twice awarded the national distinction of “Chevalier” and “Officer” de l'Ordre National du Mali, in 1996 and in 2007. She is a member of numerous professional associations and has authored a significant number of technical publications and studies. 


As a medical doctor raised and trained in Mali, I know far too well the power of the clock; the impact mere seconds can have on the course of one’s life. Too often, I’ve seen the panic and despair on a parent’s face as they race against all odds, including time, to save their children from completely preventable and treatable diseases.

Sadly, those of us in the health and development community are far too familiar with this scenario, and we’ve become accustomed to this devastating countdown.

With just less than 600 days left before the December 2015 deadline of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reverse by 2015 the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people around the world, we’re currently in the middle of one of the most monumental countdowns of our careers.

Daunting as it may be, this final push to 2015 offers one last opportunity to evaluate our progress and rally the world around some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Under the MDGs, the world has come together to deliver on a promise to the world, and thanks to stronger coordination, scientific advancements, political leadership and financial commitment, we’ve made tremendous progress. Global poverty continues to decline, more children than ever are attending primary school, child deaths have dropped dramatically, access to safe drinking water has been greatly expanded, and targeted investments in fighting malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis have saved millions.

When the MDGs were created in 2000, a child died of malaria every 30 seconds; today the disease claims a child’s life every minute. While this is evidence of tremendous progress, we can all agree that such frequent loss is unacceptable.

So, with the clock ticking, we are faced with two choices: we can either take our foot off the accelerator and risk losing the gains we’ve made, or we can restore our commitment – financially, politically and individually – to achieving a world less burdened by disease and poverty, where communities have the opportunity to thrive. This will require us to dig our heels in, boldly and confidently, to maintain our momentum as we work to deliver on the commitments we made in 2000. Above all, it will require greater partnerships and smarter investments.

Malaria is a particularly relevant example.

Since 2000, we’ve seen unprecedented progress against this preventable and treatable disease, thanks to unparalleled leadership, increased funding and stronger collaboration.

With greater coordination of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) partners, and under the technical and normative guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria deaths have declined by 42% worldwide and by nearly 50% in Africa alone since 2000. Between 2001 and 2012, our efforts helped save more than 3 million lives, 90% of which were estimated to be children under the age of 5. And more than half of the countries that had ongoing malaria transmission in 2000 are now on track to meet the MDG target of reversing the incidence of malaria.

Scientific advances have seen the percentage of households owning at least one insecticide-treated net in sub-Saharan Africa – where 90% of malaria deaths occur – rise to more than 50% since 2000, with 85% of owners indicating regular use. Between 2010 and 2012, we’ve seen the proportion of diagnostic malaria tests in the public sector increase to more than 60% both globally and in Africa, largely due to the deployment of innovative rapid diagnostic tests at the community level. And since 2005, we’ve seen the number of top-line antimalarial drugs on the market increase from 11 million globally to more than 330 million.

These advances don’t just result in a healthy night’s sleep, a definitive diagnosis or peace of mind; they create the opportunity for a productive work day and the potential for greater contribution to one’s society. They offer hope to struggling communities.

But we are at a critical point in time.

Despite best efforts and tremendous progress, malaria continues to cause an estimated 207 million cases of infection around the world each year, claiming the lives of approximately 627,000.

These are lives lost for lack of a $1 course of antimalarial treatment or a long-lasting insecticide-treated net that costs $5. They are lives lost to a cruel countdown, as mothers walk hours with their dying child in their arms, as doctors race to treat an often too advanced case of severe malaria.

Malaria disrupts communities and wrecks lives; it keeps children out of school and parents out of work.

And malaria costs governments and societies billions of dollars in healthcare costs and economic losses. In Africa alone, malaria costs an estimated minimum of $12 billion in lost productivity each year.

Our programs and policies are working, but if we don’t continue to invest in them, we will lose the advances we’ve made. Now more than ever, we must find creative ways to work together – within and between sectors – to increase efficiencies and maximize the impact of our efforts so we can sustain our progress and continue saving lives through 2015 and beyond.

Recently, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria held their 4th Replenishment in Washington, D.C. to garner financial investment for 2014-2016. Led by countries like the U.S., the U.K. and France, many countries and foundations demonstrated their commitment to global health by increasing their pledges to the world’s largest funder, resulting in approximately $12 billion raised. These extra funds will certainly help advance efforts against the three leading infectious diseases, including by strengthening health systems in high-burden countries, but alone they will not close our funding gap.

Rising from just $100 million in 2000 to peak at $2.5 billion in 2013, challenging economic times have slowed the rate of investment, leaving a gap of approximately $2.6 billion annually through 2020 that threatens our efforts to achieve universal access to malaria prevention and treatment.

Everyone has a role to play, and I encourage society to become involved by raising awareness or donating financially to any one of the many organizations helping to scale-up lifesaving malaria interventions around the world. Every bit of support – whether from nations, officials or individuals – has the potential to make enormous impact.

We know that with infectious diseases – and malaria particularly – the return is high and the cost is low, unlocking potential for generations to come, creating healthy markets and more stable societies. Beyond being morally compelling, investing in malaria is a solid economic investment that we can’t afford not to make.

As we move closer and closer to the last days of the MDGs and beyond, let us do so together, with urgency and conviction to slow the clock even more for those in communities across Africa and the Asia-Pacific racing to save their children from the deadly infection caused by a simple mosquito bite. Our action now will forecast what results might lay ahead and stands to set us up for greater victory if we are able to maintain our commitment. Frankly, we can’t afford not to scale-up our efforts and rid the world of this tragic disease.

About the Roll Back Malaria Partnership

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) is the global framework for coordinated action against malaria. Founded in 1998 by UNICEF, WHO, UNDP and the World Bank and strengthened by the expertise, resources and commitment of more than 500 partner organizations, RBM is a public-private partnership that facilitates the incubation of new ideas, lends support to innovative approaches, promotes high-level political commitment and keeps malaria high on the global agenda by enabling, harmonizing and amplifying partner-driven advocacy initiatives. RBM secures policy guidance and financial and technical support for control efforts in countries and monitors progress towards universal goals.




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