One night, as a young development worker in Mali 20 years ago, I engaged in high-risk behavior in a village west of Bamako -- I slept without a mosquito net in the middle of the rainy season.
I came to regret my lapse: I was struck down with a severe case of malaria a week later in Morocco, a country where malaria is not endemic, and the doctor I consulted in Casablanca could not diagnose it. Initially, I thought it was some form of flu, but soon realized it was much worse, and that I had carried it with me from Mali.
Malaria was the most debilitating illness I had ever experienced. Usually when I am sick, I enjoy reading, or at least watching TV. But malaria made me feel more awful, more lethargic than I ever had in my life and I felt like doing nothing except staring at the ceiling.
In those days, mosquito nets were hard to come by for anyone, but especially if you were a poor, rural Malian. And most Malians were poor and rural.
Much has changed. A 2010 Roll Back Malaria report shows that Mali is part of a pan-African malaria success story: In 2000, there were an estimated 22,663 malaria deaths among children 1 to 59 months in Mali. From 2001 to 2010, the global investment in malaria control prevented 65,065 malaria deaths, more than any of the 34 malaria endemic countries in Africa studied in the report.
On World Malaria Day 2011, we pause to note that Mali is only one piece of an even bigger and happier story: The report reveals that the lives of almost three quarters of a million children in these 34 countries were saved in the last 10 years through the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying and preventive treatment of malaria during pregnancy.
A total of 43 malaria endemic countries showed a greater than 50% reduction in either confirmed malaria cases or malaria admissions and deaths over the past decade, according to the World Malaria Report 2010. In 2009, Morocco and Turkmenistan were certified by the World Health Organization as having eliminated malaria and the WHO European Region reported no cases of Plasmodium falciparum malaria for the first time.
The Roll Back Malaria report estimates that an additional 3 million lives could be saved by 2015 if the world continues to increase these highly cost-effective measures for tackling the disease and that what is required is that U.S. and other donors should continue investing in malaria control the way they have been doing the last few year.
See the Global Health Council's Position Paper on Malaria to see what needs to be done to keep that momentum going.