For Moral and Economic Reasons, Malaria Fight Needs OIC Support

By : Fatoumata Nafo-Traore | on 12:45 PM October 24, 2013
Category : Opinion, Commentary

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It has been six years since the Organization of Islamic Cooperation hosted its First Islamic Conference of Health Ministers in Malaysia, where — among other things — member states were called upon specifically to strive for malaria prevention and elimination.

This week, I’m delighted to join leading health officials from OIC countries around the world in Jakarta for the Fourth Islamic Conference of Health Ministers. As the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world, and one that has made malaria a priority, it seems fitting for us to gather here in Indonesia to discuss some of the most pressing health challenges for OIC countries.

Since 2007, OIC member states have made notable progress in the fight against malaria. Seven OIC countries have eliminated the disease, while eight more are in the elimination phase and at least 14 OIC countries continue to work toward malaria elimination.

With malaria on the official agenda of this OIC meeting, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility as health experts and diplomats to follow suit and also place it on our respective agendas.

Because despite best efforts and tremendous progress, malaria continues to infect an estimated 219 million people around the world each year. OIC countries account for nearly half of these cases, and 12 OIC countries are among the 20 most malaria-affected countries accounting for nearly 80 percent of global cases.

Malaria kills more than 650,000 people every year, of which approximately 560,000 are children under the age of 5. These are lives lost for lack of a $1 course of antimalarial treatment or a long-lasting insecticide-treated net that costs $7, including distribution.

Malaria disrupts communities and wrecks lives; it keeps children out of school and parents out of work.

And malaria costs governments and societies billions of dollars in health care costs and lost productivity. In Africa alone — where approximately 90 percent of malaria cases occur, primarily in the 23 OIC countries in the region — malaria costs an estimated minimum of $12 billion in lost productivity each year.

But there is hope.

With stronger coordination and increased financing, malaria deaths have declined by more than 25 percent since 2000. In that same period, 43 malaria-endemic countries worldwide reported declines in malaria cases by 50 percent or more, and many have seen decreases in all-cause child mortality.

For OIC member states, strong political leadership and support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has meant that more than 55 million insecticide-treated nets have been distributed to their communities and more than 75 million cases of malaria have been treated in accordance with effective national guidelines since 2002. In 2011, approximately 52 percent of households in malaria-endemic OIC countries reported having at least one insecticide-treated net and availability of antimalarial treatment in these countries was estimated at 65 percent.

We have the proven and cost-effective tools to prevent, treat and diagnose malaria. And we know that when these tools are made available, they help create healthy families and allow communities to thrive. But we are at a critical juncture.

While global funding for malaria reached unprecedented levels in 2010, challenging economic times have left an estimated $5 billion annual funding gap through 2020 that places our progress in jeopardy. OIC countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone face a funding gap of at least $1.7 billion for 2014 and 2015.

[quote author=]In Africa alone — where approximately 90 percent of malaria cases occur, primarily in the 23 OIC countries in the region — malaria costs an estimated minimum of $12 billion in lost productivity each year[/quote]

Our programs and policies are working, but if we don’t continue to invest in them, we will lose the advances we’ve made. Now more than ever, we must find creative ways to work together to maximize the effectiveness of our efforts so we can sustain our progress and continue saving lives. This includes increasing national budgets and international aid for malaria and incorporating a multisectoral approach to leverage unique skillsets of all sectors on the ground.

A priority of the United Nations secretary-general, malaria is recognized as one of the UN Millennium Development Goals and impacts all eight. Malaria has been among the best global health investments, saving lives and accelerating progress in other development areas by reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty and improving maternal and child health. Beyond being morally compelling, fighting malaria is a solid economic investment.

With less than 1,000 days until the 2015 deadline of the MDGs, we are at a crossroads. Our action now will forecast what results might lay ahead and stands to set us up for greater victory if we are able to maintain our commitment.

I encourage health leaders joining me in Jakarta this week to re-commit to the call made at this very meeting in 2007. We must make this preventable and treatable killer a priority of ours, both as a collective community and individual nations.

As executive director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, I am counting on endemic and non-endemic OIC countries alike to play a role in our global efforts against malaria. I urge malaria-endemic countries to increase national resources for malaria control efforts, and I call on donor countries to make malaria a top priority of international aid agendas.

Many OIC donors have already committed resources to global malaria control efforts, with the United Arab Emirates, the state of Kuwait and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development leading the way with their support of RBM. Many others have supported the Global Fund, including Saudi Arabia with its recent pledge of $13.7 million, Brunei, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria and Tunisia. The Islamic Development Bank has also made malaria a priority, committing $50 million to supporting country efforts.

I am grateful for this commitment, and I congratulate each for their contribution. I hope other OIC member states might follow the example of these leaders.

The path to malaria elimination won’t always be easy, but the reward will have substantial implications for generations to come if we can continue working together to make smart investments. To be honest, we can’t afford not to.

Fatoumata Nafo-Traore is executive director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the global framework for coordinated action against malaria that was founded in 1998 by Unicef, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank.

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