WHO-led Dialogue on Rethinking Malaria in Africa

The 2020 World Malaria Report findings and the failure to attain the 2020 milestones of the Global Technical Strategy (GTS) for malaria, 2016-2030 demonstrate stagnating progress in reducing malaria in Africa; this calls for a rethink of Africa’s malaria control model. Eradication requires a context-driven interrogation of the lessons from COVID-19 and a restructuring of the global aid architecture, coupled with the realization that durable progress can only be achieved through resilient health systems and the power of multisectoral action. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the global economy and revealed the fragility of health systems across the world. The importance of resilient health systems, a commitment to universal health coverage (UHC), together with multisectoral action and innovative financing models, are required to drive progress towards malaria elimination. Africa’s malaria challenges cannot be solved only by global experts but will require locally grounded ownership, leadership, intelligence and capacity. Dramatic and lasting impact can only be achieved if organizations engage with the most vulnerable populations, and work with them to co-produce locally appropriate disease response strategies and address the structural determinants of the disease. 

In June, the WHO convened a select group of African thought leaders for a regional consultation, facilitated by the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST), to raise awareness and trigger action on the challenge of stagnating malaria indicators in Africa. The goal is to chart a path to the malaria-free future through a comprehensive, whole of society response to malaria in Africa, not only as a health problem, but as a socio-economic challenge to Africa’s development. The closed session identified actions needed to reinvigorate Africa’s malaria elimination enterprises as well as the need for a paradigm shift to view malaria as a challenge requiring a combination of a health systems strengthening and multi-sectoral actions. The current vertical approach in delivering malaria interventions must be replaced by delivering evidence-based and high quality malaria public health goods, technologies and innovations, through co-creation and co-implementation models, led by affected communities and their governments, using appropriate health service delivery platforms. 

Ochuko Keyamo-Onyige, Director of the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), facilitated the opening discussion at the event and contributed to a session on governance, leadership and management for SDGs, UHC and malaria. GBCHealth and CAMA support the Rethinking Malaria agenda. We convened a series of virtual dialogues between March-May 2021, under the theme Partnerships to Step Up Investments in Malaria. The purpose of this series was to catalyze new ways of thinking, create new cross-sector partnerships and leverage both existing and new resources to respond to the malaria challenges. GBCHealth and CAMA are committed to leveraging the power of the private sector in this effort and to work collaboratively with partners more broadly to fight and eliminate malaria.

WHO’s Rethinking Malaria in Africa initiative should be an integral component of the movement toward achieving SDGs and UHC. The message is clear: equitable and sustainable health systems can only be built through comprehensive, collaborative efforts in the context of a whole-of-society response that is shaped by local knowledge and experience. 

Matt RomneyWHO-led Dialogue on Rethinking Malaria in Africa