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WHO: Zero malaria deaths by 2015 was 'wildly ambitious goal'

October 7, 2011 - 17:29 -- Bart G.J. Knols

Today Roll Back Malaria published a 'Leadership Interview' with Dr. Newman, Director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme and Mr. Brandling-Bennett, Deputy Director of the malaria programme at the Gates Foundation. For the full interview, see here. This interview marks an important development: WHO declares that the Millennium Development Goal's target of zero deaths by the year 2015 'was a wildly ambitious goal'. Are we seeing the first cracks in the promises made at the beginning of this millennium?

At the end of 2010, Awa-Marie Coll Seck, Executive Director of the RBM Partnership sent out a message to the global malaria community that stated ‘We have many challenges ahead in supporting countries to catch up and sustain their gains or eliminate malaria to ensure that the MDGs in 2015 are within our reach.’ Not even a year later WHO’s Dr. Newman contradicts this optimism with his comment that zero deaths by 2015 ‘was a wildly ambitious goal’. 
This is remarkable, even more so when considering that in the same interview this statement is followed by Brandling-Bennett’s view that states ‘Over the next years, we expect to see far fewer cases and zero reportable deaths from malaria, which will significantly impact those people living in endemic areas.’ 
Are we seeing opposing views here by WHO and the Gates Foundation? Or were both gentlemen filling out the questions by email as far apart as Seattle and Geneva and did Boriana Savova, a communications officer at RBM, mingle their answers inadvertently? Whatever the case ‘wildly ambitious’ contrasts wildly with ‘zero reportable deaths’. 
In December 2010 we posted a poll on MalariaWorld titled ‘Will malaria deaths be zero by 2015?’ This poll has been viewed almost 1200 times since, but only 15 MalariaWorld members actually voted. Although this represents a very small portion of our membership, all voters already foresaw Newman’s statement of today and voted ‘No’. What this tells us is that as a global community of malariologists we can influence policy. Not that this happened here (I guess), but if 1000 members would have voted ‘No’, I would feel confident that we would provide food for thought for the people working in Geneva and Seattle. So please, log in and vote – your votes matter.
The realism that now surfaces from Dr. Newman’s statement is to be applauded. The world of malaria control has been taken over by well-meaning NGOs and even global organizations that make us believe that simply copying what we have done over the last decade on an ever larger scale will see malaria disappearing from the face of the planet. As professionals we know that this is a far too simplistic view. 
However, it is also time for us to realise that we have pledged results in the face of donors that we may not accomplish, like ‘zero deaths by 2015’. Continued promises will ultimately backfire. We promised global eradication in 1955, and were living as poor rats without donor interest for malaria between 1969 and 1992. Surely, we do not want this to happen again, right?



Submitted by Guest (not verified) on

My impression from the interview is that Newman and Brandling-Bennett are not as misaligned as you imply. My interpretation is that the stated aim of 'near-zero' (not zero) deaths by 2015 is seen as 'wildly ambitious' [Newman] but achievable 'as a result of better coverage with interventions ...and....prompt treatment...' [Brandling-Bennett]. There is, in principle, some overlap between wild ambition and achievability. For what it's worth, my suspicion is that, regardless of whether Newman and Brandling-Bennett are on the same page or not, this particular ambition will not be achieved. Elsewhere in the interview Brandling-Bennett also says something like "in the current economic situation both endemic and industrialised countries may find it difficult to put in the resources that are needed". Absent such resources, what is the difference between wild ambition and tame wishes? Words are cheap!

Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Dear Guest,

Thanks for your insightful comment and sharing of your views on this matter. It is of course a matter of interpretation of words, but I have looked up the interview again and do read the following words of Brandling-Bennett (under point 3 in the interview): 'we expect to see far fewer cases and zero reportable deaths from malaria'. This does contrast with Newman's view and the fact that the objectives now strived for through the World Health Assembly is a 75% reduction in mortality compared to 2000 figures. Given that mortality in 2000 was estimated around 1 million, this means that the WHA is now having a target of 250.000. That is still a massive difference with 'zero' or 'near-zero' I'm afraid...