The writer is President of Kenya and President of the Alliance of African Malaria Leaders
The leaders of the British community are meeting in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, this week. They have the potential to accelerate the fight against infectious diseases, including malaria, while building sustainable health systems that can protect the world from the next pandemic.
For many years, malaria was the deadliest disease in Africa. At the turn of the millennium, African governments and external partners worked with communities to push for retreat. These efforts have saved millions of lives and revived economies.
But in many African countries, the disease is on the rise again. There were approximately 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020. This represents about 14 million more cases in 2020 than in 2019 and 69,000 more deaths. African countries account for 95 percent of these global malaria cases and 96 percent of global malaria deaths. In 2020, more than 600,000 Africans lost their lives – most of them children under the age of five.
The Covid-19 pandemic has jeopardized advances in malaria control. But a swift and steady response from countries and partners has prevented the worst-case scenario for a potential doubling of malaria deaths, originally predicted by the World Health Organization in early 2020.
We have everything we need not only to stop this decline, but also to make progress in the fight against malaria. We must ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to tools that prevent the disease, such as mosquito nets, residual indoor spraying and seasonal chemoprophylaxis. We must also ensure that when people get sick, they can receive treatment as soon as they need it.
But what has brought us here in the fight against malaria will not get us where we need to be in 2030. We need new tools, such as the new malaria vaccine, RTS, S. From 2019, more than 1 million children received at least one dose of this vaccine by pilot introduction in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. We must now invest in making it widely available and more accessible.
There are other areas where we need to make progress. The effectiveness of older mosquito nets, for example, has been partially compromised by emerging insecticide resistance. But now we have a new class of mosquito nets treated with double insecticides that can make a big difference in preventing this disease.
First of all, in order to tip the scales against this disease, we need to devote more resources to the fight. The choice is clear: we can increase investment in the fight against malaria now, or we can postpone and end up paying much more later.
All countries where malaria is endemic – most of them in Africa – need to spend more than their own money. This is not only a moral imperative, but also a clever thing. It is estimated that every dollar invested in ending the disease brings a $ 36 economic return.
In addition to domestic investment, we need to stimulate more international funding. Experience with Covid-19 has shown that fighting a pathogen in one corner of the world is not an act of charity, but a choice to make everyone, in every part of the world, safer.
One such opportunity to boost international funding in the fight against malaria comes this year, as world leaders gather in the United States for the seventh Global Fund Replenishment Conference.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria provides 56 percent of international funding for the treatment and prevention of malaria. Across Africa, we have seen the fruits of our partnership with them, which has saved millions of lives, revitalized many communities and been a powerful force for change.
Together, we have proven that we can send the world’s deadliest infectious diseases into retreat. With the replenishment of the Global Fund this year, we can regain the positions lost during the pandemic and end malaria, as well as HIV and tuberculosis, as threats to public health forever.
The African spirit of Ubuntu calls us to revitalize our relationship to serve all of humanity, caring for everyone, everywhere, and leaving no one behind. The countries of the British Commonwealth can fight for what really matters to millions of our citizens by investing more in the fight against infectious diseases such as malaria.