Presidents, Prime Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I really was most touched to have been asked here today to say a few words to such a very distinguished group of experts at this important and potentially pivotal meeting. Combatting malaria is without doubt an issue of truly global urgency and I am encouraged and inspired to see how real is the determination of the international community to overcome this dreadful disease. And in this respect, I would like to recognize and thank not only our co-convenors, Bill Gates and Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho for the unstinting and critical support that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and RBM Partnership to End Malaria has provided, but also the Director General of the World Health Organisation for the W.H.O.'s enduring labours in this area. And yet, despite the recent hard-won successes over the last twelve years of a twenty five percent decline of new cases and a fall of forty two percent of deaths from the disease, it is tragically evident that much still remains to be done.
Ladies and Gentlemen I have been lucky enough to travel throughout the Commonwealth and beyond for a very long time (unbelievably, it seems to me at least, for the last, I tried to work it out the other day, sixty-five years!) and have only too often witnessed at first-hand the devastation that malaria can wreak on communities. I am delighted therefore, that this issue is being addressed during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The statistics show that the Commonwealth, with ninety percent of its population at risk, is directly and disproportionately exposed to malaria. As a response to this and as is evidenced by your attendance today, the Commonwealth has shouldered its responsibilities, and is playing, as it must continue to play, a vital role in fighting a disease that has beleaguered our family of countries so tragically and for so long.
I would therefore like to congratulate if I may all those who have been involved in the "Malaria No More" campaign for the phenomenal progress that has been achieved since 2006. Yet, as you will know far better than me, the increasing challenges of drug and insecticide resistance as well as climate change and, in certain instances, losses of habitat and biodiversity caused by de-forestation, are now threatening to undermine and even reverse those successes.
Happily, much can be done when people are determined to work together. An example of this is Sri Lanka where, when I first visited in 1998, the country recorded nearly a quarter of a million cases of malaria. Today, twenty years later, Sri Lanka has completely eliminated the disease and has been declared a Malaria-free zone.
Another such example of successful joint-action is the fight against polio, for when the Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Vancouver in 1987, poliovirus was one of the deadliest diseases in the world with 350,000 cases of crippled and killed children occurring annually in one hundred and twenty-five countries. At that C.H.O.G.M. in 1987, Commonwealth leaders pledged to eradicate polio and, as a consequence, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed the following year. Hundreds of millions of children have since benefitted from life-saving polio vaccines and today, polio is endemic in only two countries.
And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, we do have a proven track record in effecting change. I have always firmly believed that the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to take on such pressing global challenges, for our shared values, history and culture provide us with a remarkable and potent platform for transformative action. From those countries within the Commonwealth that are most burdened by malaria, such as Nigeria and India, to those that have eliminated it, such as Sri Lanka, to members nearing elimination, such as Belize and Malaysia, and key donors such as the U.K., Australia and Canada, we have the leadership, the multi-sectoral investments, the cutting-edge science and, vitally, the committed engagement from business and civil society to ensure that we play our part in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 3.3. This, as you know ladies and gentlemen far better than me, intersects with many of the other S.D.G.'s and specifies the reduction of malaria cases and deaths by at least ninety percent by 2030, as well as the elimination of the disease completely from an additional thirty five countries.
The commitments that we are about to witness are vitally important and will make, I am sure, a very great difference. But, in addition to these and the work currently being supported by the "Malaria No More" programme, I do think that it is absolutely vital that we should, perhaps, pause just to consider how our efforts to overcome malaria, specifically, go hand-in-hand with our work as guardians of the planet more generally. We know that tropical deforestation and climate change are greatly complicating our attempts to eliminate malaria but, critically, they also threaten and reduce biodiversity, which holds some of the keys to a solution. Artemisinin, for instance, is now one of our standard and most effective treatments and is derived of course from a natural plant (sweet wormwood). Who knows what natural plants or predators we may need to call upon in future if we are to be successful in preventing and treating malaria? It has long seemed to me that testing the planet's ecosystem to destruction is utter madness, to say the least, precisely because of the accelerating, collateral consequences. If our planet was a patient – and it is certainly becoming sicker and sicker in our case – no self-respecting doctor would have failed to make the necessary intervention by now to treat it.
Therefore, if I may make a plea, in such an august gathering, it would be that a truly integrated approach should be taken at a landscape level, as well as at scientific, educational and advocacy levels, in the implementation of the next generation of interventions? For without such an approach, I fear that we will go fatally compromised into a battle that we cannot afford to lose.
I do worry, I am afraid, that we may have gravely underestimated the systemic nature of the threats that we face. The successful achievement of the S.D.G.'s, and within them the fight against malaria, is not part of some à la carte development menu; it is the pre-requisite for our survival. And as I have tried to say over and over again – to the point of boring myself and probably others to death– we simply do not have the luxury of deferring the necessary action to future generations and nor is it fair that we should shackle them with the consequences of our inaction.
It is, however, ladies and gentlemen a wonderful demonstration of the Commonwealth at its best that we should witness such avowed determination to tackle the pernicious disease of malaria. Above all, your commitments here today will prevent much suffering, illness and death and for that we will owe you a great debt of gratitude.