LOMÉ/GABORONE – As African women leading influential and impact-driven organizations – the Ecobank Foundation and the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) – we are passionate about building a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable African economy. But achieving that goal requires accelerating progress toward eradicating the diseases that continue to deplete our communities of their most valuable resource: healthy people. One such disease is malaria.
To be sure, Africa has lately made significant progress in combating malaria. From 2010 to 2015, as part of the global Millennium Development Goals, the continent reduced the malaria incidence rate (the number of new infections) by 21% and malaria deaths by 31%.
But malaria remains a serious threat to the wellbeing of millions of Africans. In 2015, an estimated 212 million people contracted malaria worldwide, with 47% of cases concentrated in just six African countries. An estimated 429,000 people – mostly children under five years of age – died from malaria that year, with 92% of those deaths occurring in Africa and 40% occurring in just two countries, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is, therefore, an urgent need to accelerate progress – and end malaria for good.
This is both a moral and economic imperative. Preventable illnesses and deaths limit the ability of communities to contribute to Africa’s much-needed economic transformation. In many African countries, malaria reduces GDP growth by one percentage point per year. The effort to end malaria can therefore not be separated from the effort to ensure prosperity across Africa.
The Copenhagen Consensus think tank estimates that every dollar invested in ending malaria yields $36 in economic returns. To reap these benefits, African countries must increase domestic-resource mobilization substantially. Africa’s private sector, in particular, has a crucial role to play in developing innovative solutions that address malaria’s growing resistance to existing drugs, as well as mosquitoes’ growing resistance to insecticides. Moreover, the private sector can help to address inefficiencies in supply-chain management and logistics, thereby facilitating distribution of insecticides and long-lasting insecticidal nets.
Of course, even with private-sector investment, progress toward eradicating malaria in Africa will be uneven, not least because different countries are at different points on the path. Senegal – where the share of malaria-related outpatient visits fell from 36% in 2001 to just 3.3% last year – is now on track to achieve so-called pre-elimination by 2020. Meanwhile, other African countries – such as Angola and Somalia – are struggling to make any progress at all, as indicated in the ALMA scorecard for accountability and action.
No single African country can reliably eliminate malaria so long as the disease remains rampant among its neighbors. Malaria does not, after all, respect borders. That is why it is vital for African governments to work together, using every tool at their disposal, to achieve comprehensive malaria control, pre-elimination, and, ultimately, elimination.
ALMA – a coalition of 49 African heads of state and government working to eliminate malaria by 2030 – aims to advance precisely such cooperation, by focusing on accountability and action at the national, regional, and global levels. ALMA provides management tools, such as the scorecard for accountability and action, that help to track progress, identify obstacles and bottlenecks, and advance solutions. These tools are versatile and adaptable throughout the continent. Where needed, ALMA has provided support to address challenges directly with countries, in cooperation with partners, or through results-based management structures.
The Ecobank Foundation is also doing its part: its investment of both cash and in-kind services and training have enhanced the impact of the Global Fund partnership in Africa. By helping to strengthen the financial-management capabilities of grant recipients in Nigeria, Senegal, and South Sudan, the foundation is unlocking funding for health programs in those countries – and is now expanding its support to Chad and Zambia.
And there is more. Through its digital financial platform, the Ecobank Foundation is leveraging its presence to bring in new funding for the fight against malaria. And it is raising awareness as well, among its own staff and other stakeholders, of how to support malaria prevention, including through mosquito nets and a clean environment.
The goal of eradicating malaria in our lifetime may sound ambitious, but it is achievable. Together, Africa’s governments and private sector can produce the investment and action needed to stop the disease for good – and ensure greater prosperity across the continent. Julie Essiam is Chief Executive Officer of the Ecobank Foundation. Joy Phumaphi is Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.
By Julie Essiam and Joy Phumaphi