SAN FRANCISCO – Last fall, Bill and Melinda Gates sent shock waves through the global health community when they announced the audacious goal of eradicating human malaria from the face of the planet. Nothing less, they urged, would be enough.
Heated debate immediately erupted, with some experienced practitioners questioning the feasibility of such a goal. These skeptics pointed to the first Global Eradication Program, an ambitious effort in the 1950’s to clear malaria from many areas of the world (Africa was excluded). Despite initial progress, eradication programs crumbled as donors, governments, and populations grew tired and turned their attention elsewhere, allowing malaria to resurge to devastating levels.
No one is suggesting a return to the failed strategies of the first eradication program. The Gates Foundation has sensibly begun to facilitate consultations with leading scientists on accelerating the development of potent new tools, and is already funding the development of a vaccine, as well as new drugs and diagnostics. At the same time, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership has recently launched a long-term Global Action Plan to unify the actions of the malaria community and spur additional investment. All agree that eradication is decades away.