USAID Mission Director in Zambia Patrick Diskin says strides made so far in the fight against malaria have lessened the historical toll that the infection has placed on the country’s health systems.

Diskin is, however, concerned that malaria has remained the major killer of young children in Zambia, adding that during pregnancy, the disease can also pose serious life-threatening risks to both a mother and baby.

Speaking during the World Malaria Day commemorations, Diskin noted that malaria was a major cause of global poverty and that the ongoing efforts by various stakeholders to eradicate the infection had somehow culminated into economic growth for the country.

“We have celebrated together that malaria is no longer the leading cause of death for children under five in Zambia and are committed to working together with all of you here to remain vigilant. We see new infections spike in some areas while they fall in others. Our work together has lessened the historical toll that malaria has placed on health systems, and has contributed to economic growth. This foundation of progress lays the groundwork for future achievement of the long-term sustainable public health outcome – malaria elimination,” Daskin said.

“Unfortunately, malaria remains a major killer of young children and during pregnancy the disease can pose a serious, life-threatening risk to both the mother and baby. Malaria is also a major cause and consequence of global poverty. It’s burden is greatest among the poorest and the most vulnerable members of society. Malaria causes adults and children to miss work and school, further entrenching them in poverty and hunger.”

Daskin also revealed that records have shown significant improvements in the impact and population coverage of malaria since the intervention of the US government in preventing the infection.

“The U.S government works with Zambia’s national malaria program to scale up proven, cost-effective, and life-saving malaria control interventions, namely long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying with insecticides, intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women, diagnostic testing, and highly-effective malaria treatment. In Zambia, the majority of assistance provided from the United States government has been channeled through implementing partners implementing three key U.S.-funded programs: the Project for Advancing Malaria Outcomes (PAMO); the African Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) project; and the Global Health Supply Chain (PSM) project. The implementing partners work in close cooperation with the Zambian Ministry of Health in Lusaka, with district and provincial directors in the field, as well as with traditional leaders and civil-society organizations nationwide to ensure that U.S. Government resources are directed to areas of greatest need and in the most cost-efficient and effective manner,” he said.

“Simultaneously, and of equal importance, the United States PMI is strengthening health systems and building the skills of multiple cadres of health workers in Zambia to effectively deliver malaria services. PMI is also supporting Ministry of Health leaders to manage malaria control activities with increasing self-reliance, with the goal of building resilient, self-sustaining structures. If a child living in a rural village becomes sick with malaria they must receive immediate care, and this can only happen when multiple country-led and managed components, spanning all levels of the health care system, are well-functioning and coordinated.”

Meanwhile, Daskin expressed concern that although substantial progress in scaling-up malaria control interventions in Zambia had continued, global progress in reducing malaria cases and deaths had slowed.

“An estimated 216 million cases and 445,000 deaths from malaria occurred worldwide in 2016, largely unchanged from 2015. Through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, the United States and American People remain steadfast partners with the government and people of Zambia in the fight to end malaria. The United States government has provided more than $236 million to Zambia since 2008 through the PMI. The United States funds have been used to procure more than 10 million insecticide-treated nets; provided indoor residual spraying in four high malaria-burden provinces, including Luapula; administered over 25 million rapid diagnostic tests; distributed over 21 million malaria treatments to Zambians; and, provided extensive training and technical support in malaria prevention, treatment, and surveillance to Zambian public-health practitioners,” said Daskin.