A Malaria-free Africa Within Reach

By Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Aliko Dangote   
Stunning progress against malaria in the past decade has allowed the world to imagine a different future. Finally, a malaria-free Africa is within our reach.
With Africa taking the lead, we are on the threshold of eliminating this deadly disease from the continent for good.
The last chapters of our fight will be the most difficult yet. Eliminating malaria will take bold commitments from African leaders in the public and private sectors.
We must double down on our existing malaria control efforts and think creatively about new funding sources, innovative new tools and unique partnerships to drive down cases and deaths and move more countries toward elimination.
Strong leadership has been key to progress across the continent. Since 2000, we have cut malaria mortality rates in Africa by 62 per cent. Ten years ago, malaria was killing a child every 30 seconds on our continent, and a scant five per cent of the population at risk of malaria slept under insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
Now, more than half of the at-risk population sleeps under bed nets. These are extraordinary achievements. Our continent is demonstrating that we can lead the charge in the malaria fight. But malaria still ravages our families, communities and economies.
In many African countries, malaria reduces GDP growth by one per cent annually. In Nigeria, malaria costs $1 billion a year in prevention and treatment, absenteeism, loss of productivity and disability.
So why are we hopeful? Momentum is building up across the continent. In Nigeria, which shoulders 29 per cent of the global malaria burden, the public and private sectors are joining forces to fight it. Late last year, the Nigerian Health ministry and the Dangote Foundation launched the Private Sector Engagement Strategy, which leverages business expertise and innovation and capitalises on the strength of government efforts to control malaria. An innovative financial instrument now under discussion in Nigeria will seek up to $300 million from investors to finance malaria control.
We are inspired by the progress made by our ministers of health, our health workers and our communities with support from our partners in countries across the continent. The world’s oldest and deadliest disease is finally in retreat.
In 2005, there was no data on how many Liberians were dying from malaria. Nor did national health care officials know how many children with a fever had the disease. So Liberian health and finance ministers, non-governmental organisations and others joined forces against malaria.
They strengthened diagnostic capacity at the local level, improved case supervision at the county level, and enhanced management systems for health data. Ten years later, Liberia’s malaria-related deaths have been cut in half. Today, all public and private health facilities are supplied with rapid diagnostic tests.
Nigeria has made remarkable progress in expanding the use of insecticide-treated bed nets. In 2015, some 69 per cent of Nigerian households owned at least one bed net. The impact of these interventions has been significant: malaria prevalence in young children declined from 42 per cent to 27.4 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
Similar advancements are under way across Africa, thanks to the efforts of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, a ground-breaking coalition of heads of state and government from African Union-member countries fighting malaria through high-level advocacy and action.
Both the alliance Scorecard for Accountability & Action and the alliance 2030 Scorecard Towards Malaria Elimination are helping track country-by-country progress and drive action on control and elimination.
The alliance recently recognised seven countries for achieving more than 40 per cent reduction in malaria incidence and deaths.
The need for renewed leadership, creative approaches to financing and new tools to fight malaria is why we, along with three other African leaders, joined the End Malaria Council, which was launched recently alongside the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The council is a group of public and private sector leaders committed to keeping malaria elimination high on the global agenda. This includes encouraging African leaders to continue to increase domestic funding to fight malaria.
All of us have a role to play in ridding our continent of this disease — from researchers and scientists to health workers, business leaders and government officials at every level. The end of malaria starts now.
• President Sirleaf of Liberia writes from Monrovia; Dangote, President of Dangote Group, writes from Lagos.