Going “the last mile”—the most difficult and important mile of all—is critical to win the fight against malaria.
In Africa, which is home to 91 percent of malaria deaths worldwide, victory against the disease is within reach. Yet to truly eliminate malaria, which claims one life every two minutes, we must put all of our energies to go “the very last mile”—the most difficult and important mile of them all. This not only requires additional funding, it also demands that we push deep into the most remote and low-resource settings in the world to make effective interventions acceptable and accessible to all. This week, four Anglican Church leaders from southern Africa arrive in London to urge policymakers to rethink the role of faith leaders and communities in the fight against malaria.
“Faith leaders have an enormous role to play in the fight against malaria in Africa,” said Bishop Cleophas Lunga from Zimbabwe who is part of the delegation. “We have a strong reach into some of the most remote and rural areas and are saving lives every day through our important work raising awareness about prevention and helping to provide treatment. We are doing what we can to ensure political leaders don’t take their foot off the pedal in their vital efforts to eliminate this disease.”
Malaria claims the lives of approximately 445,000 people a year, 70 percent of whom are in children under 5 years of age. Among children, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of preventable school absenteeism in high-burden African countries is caused by malaria, which costs Africa $12 billion in lost GDP annually.
“Winning the battle against malaria is not a sprint, it’s a long, grueling marathon, and we must go the last mile,” said Neville Isdell, co-founder of the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, which is hosting the delegation visit. “It’s clear that if we are able to get a Coke to the most distant villages in the world, we can also get the essentials to eliminate malaria,” stated Isdell, who is former chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. He added: “But proven tools to eliminate malaria will not work if people don’t use them. The Church’s active work in communities to change people’s behavior is a game changer in the fight against the disease.”
Over a decade of unprecedented global efforts and resources have ushered in critical successes. In 2016 there were 21 million fewer malaria cases than in 2010. From 2007 to 2017, malaria deaths were cut by more than half.
In Southern Africa there is an Elimination8 initiative that aims to end transmission in the four low-transmission “frontline countries”—Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland—by 2020 and to pave the way for elimination in the four middle- to high-transmission “second line countries”—Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—by 2030.
The four Anglican Church leaders include Bishop David Njovu, Diocese of Lusaka, Zambia; Bishop Cleophas Lunga, Diocese of Matabeleland; Zimbabwe; Bishop Luke Pato, Diocese of Namibia; and Bishop André Soares, Diocese of Angola.
Namibia was commended by the WHO earlier this month for having made tremendous progress over the last two decades in its quest to reduce the malaria burden. And Zambia managed to reduce malaria-related deaths by 70% in the past five years.
Isdell:Flowers, working with community religious leaders to strengthen surveillance, community education, diagnosis and treatment, seeks to couple an evidence-based elimination strategy with an enabling environment—of strong political will and financial support.
“With funding, perseverance and creative solutions, the fight against malaria is ours to win,” stated Christopher Flowers, CEO of J.C. Flowers & Co and co-founder of Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative. He noted that for every dollar we invest in malaria, there is a $36 return in increased productivity. “It’s not only a smart investment, it propels us toward the last mile and toward our collective aim of global malaria eradication.”
The four Bishops will be accompanied by Nanlop Ogubereke, Global Program Advisor for Health for Christian Aid based in Nigeria, which has the highest malaria burden in the world.
The delegation will meet with Alistair Burt, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth office and Department for International Development; Catherine West, MP and Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases; Rt Hon Baroness Northover and Lord David Alton. They will also participate in roundtable discussions at Lambeth Palace and Chatham House.