From Davos to Addis – Putting Malaria on Notice
By Susan Byrnes
January was an exciting month in the malaria fight. From Davos, Switzerland to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, global leaders stepped up to put malaria on notice, vowing to help end it once and for all.
In mid-January, I traveled to Davos to help Bill Gates and Ray Chambers, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, launch the End Malaria Council on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. With nine founding members, the group includes high-level public and private-sector leaders who have committed to use their voices and influence to help accelerate the path to malaria eradication.
A group of them – including Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote, former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno – met with Gates and Chambers in Davos to talk about how to fill critical funding gaps in malaria-affected regions.
“The next chapter of the fight against malaria starts now,” said Gates in launching the council. “For the first time in history, we have a roadmap to a world without malaria – where no one has to die from a mosquito bite ever again.”
Just ahead of the meeting, Kate Kelland from Reuters spoke to Gates and Chambers about why this is such an important time in the malaria fight.
As the Reuters story points out, we’ve had 15 years of remarkable progress against malaria – deaths have been cut in half. But there is a danger with this kind of success: If leaders believe the problem has been solved, they could lose focus. Neglect could easily wipe out the gains and send the death toll skyward once again.
It will take serious investments of political will and resources to advance control efforts and keep the world on track to end malaria. Growing resistance to malaria drugs and insecticides makes investments in new tools more urgent than ever.
Malaria-affected countries – particularly in Africa, which shoulder 90 percent of the malaria burden – must be at the forefront of the fight. Increasingly, they are. Just days after the Davos announcement, I arrived in Addis Ababa to help amplify the good news from the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Forum. Each year, ALMA hosts its meeting alongside the African Union Summit, recognizing countries for their progress against malaria and sharing scorecards with heads of state and government so they can hold each other accountable. This year, ALMA honored eight countries for their commitment and progress against malaria – including some of the highest burden countries on the continent.
“We are turning the tide on malaria in Africa,” said Joy Phumaphi, Executive Secretary of ALMA. “The success is reflected in the countries ALMA honored today. Our work is not done. We must remain focused to achieve our goal of a malaria-free Africa."
It’s an awe-inspiring sight as heads of state and delegation enter the room, one after the other, and lend their voices and their presence to the vision of an Africa without malaria. The room quickly fills with dignitaries, including the new UN Secretary-General António Guterres, ministers, malaria partners, and a half-dozen African first ladies. They accept their awards, review their country scorecards and make statements about ending malaria once and for all.
“Malaria is no longer the number one killer of our children,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the outgoing chair of the African Union Commission, told attendees. “This should not make us complacent but rather make us strive to even greater achievement.”
In this powerful op-ed, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Dangote make the case that with strong African leadership, a malaria-free Africa is within reach. After witnessing the passion and commitment of so many high-level malaria champions, I couldn’t agree more.