Why Africa urgently needs to end malaria
Africa, the world’s fastest developing and demographically youngest continent, continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the malaria burden in the world. The unsavoury situation has had devastating implications on the continent’s economy and the general well-being of the people, causing the eradication of the disease to become one of the most critical challenges it faces in its race to be a global powerhouse.
Eradicating the disease has, for many reasons, become a global emergency and Africa, now more than ever needs to strap its belt to ensure that it achieves a malaria-free, healthy society for its 1.3 billion-plus population while consequently meeting global targets in less than a decade. If the African continent has been dithering or uninspired in making valiant efforts toward the quick eradication of malaria, available statistics are enough to wake it up from its slumber.
Malaria, once regarded because of poverty, is now considered a major factor impoverishing the African people. The preventable and treatable disease is estimated to cost the continent $12 billion every year while slowing economic growth by up to 1.3 per cent, although people living in rural areas and the poor continue to be the most susceptible to its impact. In the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Africa recorded a disturbing 95 per cent of malaria cases in the world and 96 per cent of 627,000 malaria deaths, with children barely five years old accounting for about 80 per cent of all malaria deaths in the region.
Considering the debilitating impact of the disease on the globe, it is understandable that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated an ambitious intent to banish malaria from the earth’s surface by 2030. The organisation, in tandem with the global health community, seeks to, in less than a decade, reduce malaria case incidences by at least 90 per cent, reduce malaria mortality rates by at least 90 per cent, eliminate malaria in at least 35 countries and prevent a resurgence of malaria in all malaria-free countries. While it is a welcome yet challenging venture, achieving the targets would require a great paradigm shift in Africa’s approach to tackling the menace.
To its credit, the continent has seen collective efforts from several of its countries — ranging from the distribution of long-lasting mosquito nets to insecticides, effective medicines, and diagnostics centres — resulting in a significant reduction in transmission cases and deaths over the years. The package of interventions, especially the distribution of mosquito nets, has been estimated to cause a 20-25 per cent reduction in child death rates. This number, although with great room for improvement, is significant.
However, with malaria becoming more deadly due to the parasite-carrying insects’ resistance to the various combatants, the continent is in a desperate position for further investments to effectively curb its crippling impact on lives and economic growth. In adopting new control measures or reinforcing the existing ones, Africa would require even more strategic partnerships and funding. The WHO reported recently that total funding towards malaria control and eradication amounted to $3 billion by 2019, with governments of endemic countries expending over $900 million to the cause. Despite the positive impact of these investments, malaria remains largely uncontrolled on the African continent, especially in the sub-Saharan region — an indication that there is a lot more urgent work to be done.
Incidentally, results from the Global Fund investment activities show that further commitment to funding Africa’s health sector and malaria eradication programmes is critical. In the countries where the Global Fund invests from its establishment in 2002 until 2019, malaria deaths have been reduced by 45 per cent. Likewise, the global replenishment conference that is held every three years where country and business leaders pledge new financial commitments to end malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis has played a significant role in stemming the consequences of terminal diseases, with the last edition contributing a record $14 billion to the fight.
So far, the Global Fund has delivered more than 50 per cent of malaria programmes, while also supporting countries with the delivery of 188 million mosquito nets as part of its life-saving malaria programmes. The organisation, since COVID-19 ravaged and disrupted global activities in 2020, has provided additional funding worth over $4 billion through the ‘COVID-19 Response Mechanism’ to countries to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on malaria response.
Indeed, the infrastructure needed to end malaria — such as better data and surveillance capabilities, and a stronger community health workforce — is mostly possible with adequate investments or funding. And to reap these benefits, Africa, without a doubt, needs to play an active role in partnering with the Global Fund to better its cause.
Interestingly, five African countries — Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — have a long history of forging strategic partnerships with the organisation as implementers and donors, and have greatly benefited in their fight against HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. The countries have again indicated willingness to participate in the upcoming Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment and more African nations need to get on the train too, especially as this year’s edition is considered critical to defeating diseases, ending health inequity, and protecting humanity from future pandemics.
In its targets for the event later this year, Global Fund projects that a minimum of $18 billion raised fund would greatly steer the world towards eradicating HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, as well as building resilient and sustainable systems for health and strengthening pandemic preparedness. If actualised, the sum is predicted to save 20 million lives and reduce the death rate from these infectious diseases by 64 per cent.
It is time for Africa to further commit to building resilient and sustainable health systems to triumph over the scourge of malaria, and maximising collaborative opportunities such as the Global Fund replenishment is a great way to achieve the goal. By 2030, there should no longer be questions about whether the continent can rise to meet global standards in health welfare for its populace but widespread commendations about the near-perfect progress made.