Dr Maha Barakat

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s financial contributions towards the fight against malaria will play a key role in controlling the spread of the infectious disease in the Sahel region, where the number of cases has been on the rise since 2010, a top health expert has said.

“The UAE’s support of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, [a global platform for coordinated action against malaria], is providing a core level of funding that ensures greater and effective impact of our vital work. International communities that continue to suffer from the disease will benefit from this commitment towards the RBM Partnership’s goal of ending malaria worldwide,” Dr Maha Barakat, member of the RBM Partnership board, told Gulf News.

She was speaking ahead of World Malaria Day, which will be observed on Wednesday to recognise global initiatives that combat the disease, and to encourage further pledges towards the eradication of malaria worldwide.

Malaria is an infectious disease that is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Marked by fever and chills, the disease can become life threatening without the proper treatment. Around the world, a child dies of malaria every two minutes.

Last year, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, made a $5-million (Dh18.36-million) three-year contribution to the RBM Partnership. Dr Barakat explained that this grant will be used to support the Partnership’s 2018-2020 plan, which includes an ambitious goal of eliminating malaria in the Sahel region — in countries like Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and the Gambia — by 2030.

“The World Health Organisation’s 2017 report indicates that malaria cases in Sahel have been on the rise since 2010, except in Cabo Verde. Close to 20 million cases of malaria infection are reported from the region, and about 90 million people are at risk of contracting the disease. Still, some countries are making good progress. Senegal had reduced the number of malaria cases by 20 per cent between 2015 and 2016,” Dr Barakat said.

After a decade of tremendous progress against malaria — during which malaria deaths declined by 60 per cent and more than seven million lives were saved — malaria cases increased for the first time in 2016 and mortalities were no longer falling. There were 216 million reported cases, and 445,000 deaths around the world.

“This stall in progress towards ending the disease for good is due to a plateau in funding since 2010, as well as gaps in life-saving malaria tools, a growing resistance to prevention and treatment methods, and the acute outbreak of malaria in conflict areas,” Dr Barakat explained. This is why Shaikh Mohammad’s grant is especially pivotal in the fight against the illness.

The UAE itself was declared malaria-free in 2007, and since 2010, six other nations have been certified malaria-free: Armenia, Morocco, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Over the last two weeks, two international conferences have been convened in London and Dakar, Senegal, to attain new political commitments and urge further research. The RBM Partnership has been behind much of this activity, along with philanthropic organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Malaria in numbers

Every 2 minutes, a child dies from malaria

216 million cases of malaria reported in 2016

445,000 deaths from malaria in 2016

90% of global malaria cases and deaths in Africa