A World Malaria Day Unlike Any Other

Ian MatthewsNews

How leaders in the fight against malaria are addressing an unprecedented situation

This is a world malaria day unlike any other. As we approach a day that’s meant for raising awareness and stepping up the fight against malaria, we are faced with a global community whose attention and efforts are focused squarely on COVID-19.

It is daunting to recall that as we approached 2020, the global community was calling for increased attention and focus on the fight against malaria. WHO’s 2019 World Malaria Report noted that “without accelerated change, the Global technical strategy for malaria 2016–2030 milestones for morbidity in 2025 and 2030 will not be achieved.”

We have seen great progress in the fight against malaria. Between 2000 and 2014, annual malaria-related deaths fell by 40% worldwide, from an estimated 743,000 to 446,000. But there is still work to be done; in 2018, there was still staggeringly high death rate of over 400,000. The highest burden typically falls to the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children under five in African countries. As the Global Fund warns, “despite the progress and promise, we face serious challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to further derail hard-won gains.”

There are many ways in which the focus on COVID-19 can hurt the fight against malaria. The two diseases have some symptoms in common, including fever, headaches and body pain, which can lead to misdiagnosis. The volume of COVID-19 cases is stressing health systems, leaving less room for malaria treatment, and social distancing measures cause people to avoid seeking treatment. COVID-19 is also impacting global supply chains that in turn cause shortages of critical malaria products.

But, the fights against malaria and COVID-19 aren’t solely in conflict. The work done over the last three decades in the fight against malaria – to strengthen health systems, improve reach of health services to the last mile, learn how to promote healthy behaviors in diverse settings, focus on vulnerable populations, and create innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships – make us better prepared to fight COVID-19. Experienced and established players in the fight against malaria have established surveillance capabilities, frontline health capacity and time-tested relationships that are proving invaluable in confronting COVID-19.

Everyone has a role to play in fighting COVID-19, just as the Zero Malaria Starts With Me campaign emphasizes the personal responsibility we all have in the fight against malaria. From politicians who must keep malaria high on their agendas to communities empowering members and taking ownership of malaria prevention and care, we must uphold our individual and collective actions in the fight against malaria.

Insights from the experts

In our work alongside the business community in the fight against malaria, COVID-19 and other global health issues, GBCHealth spoke with private sector leaders about how their companies are addressing the dual threat of disease on this unique World Malaria Day.

Sherwin Charles, CEO of Goodbye Malaria, shares his experience and offers lessons learned following his work on Goodbye Malaria’s malaria eradication and awareness programs in southern Africa that could help in the fight against COVID-19.

Michael Steinberg, lead of Chevron Corporation’s Global Public Health team, provides his perspective on how the company is reacting to COVID-19 within its workforce, and what needs to be done to support the people and health systems affected by both diseases.

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, head of Access Bank’s Sustainability and Corporate Communications team shares insights from a financial institution headquartered in Nigeria, the country with the highest malaria incidence, on how it approaches the long-term fight against malaria and the new challenges posed by COVID-19.

The private sector has and continues to be an indispensable advocate, partner and stakeholder in addressing epidemics, pandemics and many other health issues. CAMA (the Corporate Alliance for Malaria in Africa), a long-standing signature program of GBCHealth, works to drive partnerships for malaria control and elimination. Its members believe that business cannot succeed unless societies are healthy, and realizing a world free of malaria is beyond the reach of any one company. The agenda requires collaboration across sectors as well as innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships with government and civil society.

In recognition of World Malaria Day, The Federal Ministry of Health, the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership in Nigeria and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA) hosted a webinar on April 23rd titled Sustaining Malaria Intervention Amid COVID-19. The webinar featured experts from the public and private sectors in Nigeria, discussing and sharing how stakeholders are collaborating to protect a country that is both stricken with malaria and potentially at high risk for a COVID-19 outbreak. A recording and summary of the webinar will be available soon. 

Ian MatthewsA World Malaria Day Unlike Any Other