A health worker performs a blood test on a child at a clinic near the Thai-Myanmar border. For more than a decade, the fast-acting artemisinin has been a potent weapon against malaria, but there are fears that resistance to the drug is spreading. Photo: AFP

Increased funding is needed to eliminate malaria across 22 Asia-Pacific countries and save an estimated 400,000 lives, according to recent research.

New studies published on Wellcome Open Research shows that Asia-Pacific countries have made significant progress towards their goal of eliminating malaria by 2030.

But, researchers say stagnating donor funding could put national malaria control efforts at risk and access to lifesaving drugs and other tools. Under one potential scenario that could 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,” research collection advisor and study author Prof Richard Maude, from the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, said.

“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 US$6 for the affected countries,” lead study author Rima Shretta said.

Study author Prof Lisa White of MORU said: “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 and has significant human benefits – but only if adequately funded, the study authors said.

‘Please pressure donors’

They said it is important to put pressure on donors and decision-makers to continue funding current efforts – including fully funding the Global Fund at the upcoming replenishment conference this October.

“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 realize this goal of P. falciparum and P. vivax elimination in the Asia-Pacific by 2030,” study author Sheetal Silal, from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said.

“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 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 , and will undergo open peer review, where all reports are published alongside the articles with the authors’ responses.

The research is the result of partnership between the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, with funding support by the Asian Development Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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