Ladies and Gentlemen,
When we commemorate international efforts against global challenges, as we do today with World Malaria Day, our message is usually ambiguous: the good news is, much has been achieved; the bad news is, much needs to be done.
WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan summarized the good news as follows, "Malaria control is one of the greatest public health success stories since the start of this century." Global malaria deaths since 2000 have indeed been cut in half, and over 6.2 million lives have been saved. In Sub-Saharan Africa, two in three children under five now sleep under an insecticide-treated mosquito net, and access to quality treatment has greatly improved. Today, malaria is no longer the leading cause of death for African children.
But, we’re not yet where we want to be. Every year, nearly half a million people still die of malaria.
Switzerland has been at the forefront of the global fight against malaria for several decades now. Our country has the means and the knowledge to play a pioneering role in the development of new medicines and diagnostics. Our leadership in this area is world-renowned and greatly appreciated.
Today’s signing of the joint declaration between the Parliamentarian Group on Global Health and the Swiss Malaria Group affirms Switzerland’s preeminent standing in the fight against malaria.
These efforts are an important element of Switzerland's new international cooperation strategy for the years 2017-2020 as well as the Agenda 2030 adopted last year by the United Nations. The Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cover social, economic and environmental dimensions of development. Health is at the nexus of all three.
Malaria not only kills. It keeps people from going to work. It keeps children from going to school. And it traps families and whole communities in a vicious cycle of poverty and disease. It places a serious financial burden on health systems and adds tremendous social costs to entire nations. If we defeat malaria, we can break the cycle of disease and poverty, improve people’s economic and social opportunities, and reduce poverty-related inequalities.
The advances in malaria control over the last 15 years are not just one of the biggest public health achievements. It is also one of the great successes of international cooperation, and a reminder of how much we can accomplish when we act together. If we vigorously pursue the WHO goal of reducing malaria by 90% by 2030, we can save an estimated 10 million more lives and add USD 4 trillion to the economic output of malaria-endemic countries. This is a goal worth fighting for.
How can Switzerland make a difference?
First of all, by adding specific Swiss value. As a top-ranked location for medical research and home to a cutting-edge pharmaceutical industry, Switzerland enjoys a significant comparative advantage.
With key international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland is also a hub for global health policy and an incubator for new partnerships within the health sector and beyond. Indeed, such partnerships have, with our support, already yielded some impressive results:
- When the pharma industry started to close down its malaria research departments, the SDC actively promoted the establishment of new public private partnerships for drug development. The Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) was launched as one of the first product development partnerships in 1999 with seed money from the SDC. Today, MMV has an impressive pipeline of new medicines against malaria. Over 300 million pediatric treatments of a child-friendly medicine developed in partnership with Novartis have been shipped to more than 50 endemic countries.
- For over a decade, the SDC has been supporting a program in Tanzania assisted by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute to distribute mosquito nets on a wide national scale. Over 50 million nets have since been given out, and more than 60,000 deaths among children have been prevented every year as a direct result of the campaign.
- Civil society organizations, such as the Swiss Red Cross, SolidarMed and Biovision, continue to work closely with communities and authorities to enable access to life-saving products and to raise health consciousness.
The malaria strategy in our new Dispatch on International Cooperation will build on these achievements and on Switzerland’s specific strengths. We will intensify our support for public-private partnerships to advance product pipelines and access to essential treatments. And we will strengthen global coordination, as we look beyond the health sector to foster multi-sectoral approaches.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The promotion of global health is not only our moral duty and an expression of our solidarity with people who still have a long way to go in catching up with medical standards we take for granted. It is also in our collective interest, as the ever-looming threat of pandemics has become a reality of our interconnected world.
I would like to thank the members of the Swiss Malaria Group for their indispensable work. I can only encourage them to intensify their collaboration, to keep up a united front against this deadly disease and further catalyze Swiss excellence. Acting together, we have an historic opportunity to defeat malaria in the near future.