BY ALIKO DANGOTE
The World Malaria Day is observed each year on April 25, to underline the need for malaria control and total elimination. Adjunct to this is the galvanization of global efforts towards advocacy and sustained political will and investment all aimed at ending the scourge of the disease in identified communities.
Since 2000, global partnerships and investments in the fight against malaria have yielded positive results – preventing some 2 billion malaria cases, saving 11.7 million lives, and putting eradication within reach.
At a historic Global Fund Replenishment meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in 2022, billions of dollars were pledged by donors to boost the fight against HIV, TB and Malaria. However, an unprecedented shortfall of more than 50% in global malaria funding is now holding countries back from maintaining life-saving malaria programmes at current levels, from and reaching everyone currently living with the risk of contracting malaria.
Consequently, according to the 2022 Malaria Report, 96% of malaria deaths globally were found in 29 countries, with Nigeria sadly among the four countries which accounted for just over half of all malaria deaths globally in 2021; alongside the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Niger and the United Republic of Tanzania.
A number of biological threats have also emerged, putting existing and future progress at risk. However, recent investments in R&D have produced the most robust pipeline of malaria interventions in over a decade to address these threats. Despite this remarkable progress, many proven interventions are still waiting to be implemented at scale. Countries and partners are working tirelessly to hold the line against malaria, implementing innovative approaches to tailor and deliver lifesaving tools to the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities.
However, funding gaps are contributing to declining progress in the countries with the highest burden of malaria. Countries will not reap the rewards of these investments without further commitment to scale-up and roll out these innovations where they are needed most. For Africa to move forward, we really have to get rid of malaria once and for all.
Despite previous recorded successes in program implementation, there is an ever-increasing need to step up our efforts and escalate investment. Now is the time to take decisive action to deliver on our goal of zero malaria, spur overall development and achieve 2030 targets. The commemoration of World Malaria Day requires us to bolster the fight against this life-threatening disease once and for all.
The theme of this year’s World Malaria Day: “Time to Deliver Zero Malaria: Invest, Innovate, Implement” highlights the need for urgent action and further investment to ensure existing investments deliver maximum impact in the fight to end malaria. As a United Nations (UN) Malaria Ambassador for Nigeria, I would like to add my voice to the global call on countries and partners around the world to:
•Invest more in malaria programmes to bridge critical funding gaps and accelerate progress towards total elimination of malaria.
•Innovate further to deliver improved solutions to end malaria that are tailored to those who need them most.
•Implement national strategies to accelerate progress against this age-old disease, by demonstrating leadership, adopting innovative and sustainable approaches, and scaling up national malaria programmes to deliver lifesaving tools to those at highest risk.
On this World Malaria Day, I urge joint action to prioritise our interventions to fight Malaria. In addition to the human suffering, the economic toll of this disease on global productivity is very high, and even more impactful in these times of economic fragility. More than ever, we must collaborate to ensure that no child or person dies of malaria again. As we celebrate our progress, we must also drive further progress toward malaria elimination in Nigeria and Africa at large by focusing on two key areas:
*Ensure that malaria elimination remains high on Nigeria’s public health and development agenda with strong political commitment from leaders at all levels; and
*Advocate at all levels to ensure sufficient funding to sustain the progress made so far, as we jointly seek to end malaria for good.
*Encourage my fellow private sector leaders to implement Malaria prevention and treatment programmes in their companies, as we do across our businesses in the Dangote Group.
Happily enough, our fight against the malaria scourge has been buoyed by the emergence of a new malaria vaccine – R21/Matrix-M, which was developed by the University of Oxford and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which approved the R21 vaccine use after it conducted its in-house checks, said Nigeria expects to get at least 100,000 doses of the vaccine in donations soon.
All efforts must be made to sustain the adequate sourcing and application of this innovative vaccine in the fight against malaria; akin to the noble efforts made to ensure the eradication of polio in Nigeria and Africa. We at the Aliko Dangote Foundation pledge to spearhead the collective effort to ensure adequate provision, supply and application of this malaria vaccine.
In my role as the Chairman of the Nigeria End Malaria Council (NEMC), my Foundation and I will continue to engage with the National Malaria Elimination Program (NMEP) and key stakeholders to support the efforts of NMEP to address malaria in our workplaces, communities, and especially high burden areas to renew commitments to help Nigeria attain its goal of malaria elimination by 2030.
Together, we can save our children, families, nation, and continent. The time to act is NOW!
*Alhaji Dangote, GCON, is the Chairman of National Malaria Elimination Council (NMEC), United Nations (UN) Malaria Ambassador for Nigeria.