I want to start with a pop quiz…

What do these three things have in common?

  1. A genetically modified fungus weaponized with spider venom..
  2. Using cellphones data and Facebook posts to track the spread of infectious disease…
  3. A drug that turns human beings into living “mosquito zappers”…

They may all sound like rejected ideas for a sci-fi plot. In fact, they are real world projects that innovators in this room are demonstrating and implementing today to combat malaria.

I’m Martin Edlund, the CEO of Malaria No More. Thank you for being with us tonight as we celebrate what we’re calling the “10 To End” Innovators: 10 People and Ideas That Will Make the End of Malaria possible.”

Our mission at Malaria No More is to achieve a world where no one dies from a mosquito bite. We do it by working tirelessly to mobilize the political commitment, global resources, and innovations to end malaria within our generation.

We cannot do it without the partnership of tonight’s innovators or our entrepreneurial Keynote Speaker, US Global Malaria Coordinator Dr. Ken Staley.

Since the year 2000, The fight against malaria has emerged as one of humanity’s great public health success stories. Thanks to the efforts of many people in this room – and many others outside of it:

  • More than 7 million lives have been saved
  • More than 1 billion malaria cases have been averted,
  • And $2 trillion in economic benefits has been unlocked for the malaria-affected world.

Give yourselves a round of applause.

Yet, after a decade of historic progress and year-on-year declines, malaria cases are once again on the rise in the countries hardest hit by this disease.

We face daunting new challenges like the emergence of drug and insecticide resistance that threaten to undermine the very tools we’ve used to make so much progress.

For some, these setbacks might seem like a cause for doubt… or even despair.

But who said we wouldn’t falter in our quest to end humanity’s oldest, deadliest disease?

We’re trying to eradicate a 20 million year old disease in the next 20 years or so. As President Obama liked to say: “hard things are hard.”

We should expect setbacks. We should welcome them. Because adversity reveals our true capacities.

As many of our partners here can attest, the view from inside the malaria fight is anything but despairing. Whether I’m talking with doctors and health workers on the front lines, or with doctorates and engineers in a lab – what I see is passion, tenacity, and relentless drive to innovate.

Just yesterday, the World Health Organization reported that we’ve eliminated malaria in four countries in the last two years, and that six more countries – including China, El Salvador, Malaysia and Iran – are on track to reach zero malaria by the end of 2020.

Looking to precedents for this grand mission, I cannot help but refer back to JFK’s famous “moon shot” speech. If you allow me to tweak President Kennedy’s famous words slightly, they ring true for us today: “We choose to end malaria, not because it is easy, but because it is hard …because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Like the race to the moon before it, the race to eradicate malaria is spurring scientific, medical and technological breakthroughs that will do more to shape mankind’s future than the disease has done to shape our past.

Solutions in the malaria campaign have always come from surprising directions. The first malaria drug, quinine, was discovered by boiling the bark of the “fever tree” of Peru in 1630. It was a human milestone: the first successful use of a chemical compound to treat an infectious disease.

To win this fight, we need to continue to “think different.” We must turn obstacles into opportunities. We must turn adversaries into allies.

In response to drug resistance, our partners at Novartis and Sanofi are inventing “a radical cure” treatment that can eliminate malaria in a single dose. No one innovation will be the “silver bullet” to end malaria. But taken together, they amount to a new model for disease eradication – one that relies on bold, and sometimes counterintuitive approaches.

Two of our innovators tonight are using advanced gene-editing techniques to create what they call “friendly mosquitoes” to stop transmission of the disease. It sounds unbelievable, but if we want to relegate malaria to the history books, we may need solutions drawn from the pages of science fiction.

Some innovations take decades of research and investment to be realized. The US Government’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research began work way back in the 1980s that led to approvals just last year of a new cure for the second deadliest form of malaria, and to the rollout this year of the first partially effective malaria vaccine in three African countries.

These tools make an enormous difference to those working on the front lines of the malaria fight. Sujata Karan, an ASHA health worker in Odisha, India, recently told us that Abbott’s rapid diagnostic tests have transformed her work: “It used to take 15 days to complete a malaria test. Using a rapid diagnostic test, we get the results in 15 minutes,” she went on to say: “These days, people don't die because of malaria like in the past.”

As you hear about the astonishing work of tonight’s honorees, remember that the campaign to end malaria will ultimately be won by people like Sujata, the dedicated frontline health workers are able to turn human ingenuity into human impact by saving lives.

Let me conclude thanking Malaria No More’s Co-chairs, Peter Chernin and Chris Combe, our co-Founder Ray Chambers, and the rest of the Board and Host Committee. Let me thank the Malaria No More staff for helping us put on this beautiful event and for waking up every day to pursue this mission tirelessly.

Let me welcome our many friends and distinguished guests: Ambassador Modest Mero of Tanzania; Ambassador Frederick Shava of Zimbabwe; Ambassador António Gumende of Mozambique; and Ambassador Toshiya Hoshino of Japan.

I also want to thank and acknowledge some of key corporate partners, sponsors and supporters tonight who make Malaria No More’s lifesaving work possible: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Abbott, ExxonMobil, Kimberly-Clark, Sumitomo Chemical, Mosquito Squad, Vestergaard, The MCJ Amelior Foundation, WarnerMedia and AT&T, The Walt Disney Company, National Amusements, Goldman Sachs, Oxitec, American Express, Conscious Step, Times Bridge. We deeply appreciate your support.

We hope you all enjoy tonight’s program. Prepare to be astonished – and thank you for helping make malaria no more!