The response to COVID-19 must be all encompassing. The worry is that efforts to protect against malaria may go off the radar, with huge implications for public health in Africa.
Since the Abuja 2000 Political Declaration on Roll Back Malaria, global efforts have dramatically reduced the global malaria burden.
Unprecedented partnerships and high-level political alliances such as ALMA demonstrated shared responsibility and regional as well as global solidarity, enabling the scale up of effective interventions and better data for evidence informed policies and programmes.
While more countries are close to elimination, the progress made in Africa is fragile and can easily backtrack. A seasonal outbreak has the potential to reverse progress made in decades.
Africa suffers a disproportionate share of the global malaria burden: 94% of deaths and 93% of the cases, with pregnant women and children under five in sub-Saharan Africa being the majority of the victims.
African health systems are already weak; COVID-19 is a major threat
As COVID-19 ravages the globe, weak health systems are under real threat in Africa. While COVID-19 is wrecking visible economic damage even in the most developed societies, its impact on health systems in Africa promises to be devastating, affecting all social protection mechanisms across African countries.
The highest malaria burdened countries – the majority of which are in Africa – cannot cope with millions more malaria infections. Women and children are the most affected by malaria with more than two thirds of deaths being children.
In addition, children’s learning ability is compromised when they get malaria, thus affecting their future contribution to the development of their communities and Africa’s potential for growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to significantly increase malaria deaths and cases, and add pressure on less-resilient health systems and limited human resources for health.
WHO estimates that without access to malaria prevention and treatment, deaths due to malaria could double in 2020, from the 380,700 in 2018 to 760,000.
We must not lose the past 20 years’ progress in reducing cases of malaria
Now, more than ever before, it is vital that the malaria endemic countries and the world work together to protect gains painstakingly made in reducing malaria cases and deaths over the past two decades.
This requires coordinated action that will keep frontline health workers and communities at risk of malaria safe from COVID-19, minimise disruptions to supply chains and malaria services, as well as ensure funding is not diverted away from malaria programmes.
Keeping malaria high on the development agenda is now more urgent than ever before. Also critical, is ensuring funding commitments are maintained including commitments that have already been made by Heads of State, governments and National End Malaria Councils.
ALMA has committed to supporting countries in the increased use of data and technology, which will drive impact and change.
We need to harness the demographic dividend of our youth who can act as catalysts and drivers of investments in drugs, technical innovation and researchers to win the fight against malaria.
The Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign endorsed by the AU, ALMA Chair and Heads of State and Government emphasises the power of the people and the urgency to defeat malaria with global solidarity and shared responsibility. Zero Malaria Starts With Me.
Phumaphi is the Executive Secretary, African Leaders Malaria Alliance