African leaders call for immediate action to save additional lives from malaria in the face of COVID-19

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Uhuru Kenyatta
Uhuru Kenyatta

IN response to mounting concerns around the impact of COVID-19 on malaria elimination efforts across the African continent, the African members of the End Malaria Council have released a joint statement and a four-pronged action plan calling on African and global leaders to act quickly to: protect the decades of gains against malaria; boost African purchasing power and local manufacturing of critical medical supplies; continue investments in building an essential health workforce; and, use data to maximize limited resources to save lives.

The End Malaria Council is a committed group of the global public sector and business leaders that sees malaria eradication as a critical health and development priority and that drives progress toward eradication by focusing on three key areas: leadership, financing and technology. The signatories of the statement are:

  • H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya and Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance
  • H.E. Jakaya Kikwete, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania
  • H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia
  • Aliko Dangote, President and Chief Executive of the Dangote Group
  • Graça Machel, Founder, The Graça Machel Trust and Foundation for Community Development

The World Health Organization, WHO, and its partners recently published a modelling study which shows that deaths from malaria could double in 2020 if access to life-saving malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment services are disrupted. This finding becomes especially concerning as we reach the rainy season in the highest malaria-endemic countries across Africa and in India.

“I am committed to working with fellow heads of state and government on a coordinated and harmonized response to COVID-19 that stamps out this pandemic while continuing to provide essential health services to our citizens. Nothing is more important than protecting our women, children, and men from preventable and treatable diseases like malaria. These efforts will help us to sustain the significant gains that we have made driving down malaria cases and deaths over the past twenty years.” – H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta is the President of Kenya, the Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance and a member of the End Malaria Council.

“To fight COVID-19 effectively and ensure hard-won gains in malaria are not lost, African nations must strengthen essential regional partnerships to develop coordinated and collaborative approaches to support public health systems.” – H.E. Jakaya Kikwete, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania was the founding Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.  Currently, President Kikwete is an ambassador and advocate for regional approaches to health and development on the African continent and a member of the End Malaria Council. 

“Prioritizing frontline health worker safety is a critical investment in the COVID-19 response that will provide short- and long-term benefits. Ensuring these health workers are equipped with the necessary protective equipment, diagnostics, and data tools will protect health workers and empower them to interrupt the virus while maintaining life-saving services against existing diseases like malaria.” – H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was President of Liberia during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 is the former Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. Currently, President Sirleaf is the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Health Workforce and a member of the End Malaria Council.

“African governments face challenging resource constraints as they seek to control and respond to COVID-19 but must avoid diverting funds from essential health campaigns that protect the most vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women. By prioritizing the mobilization of new funding to combat the pandemic, African nations can address the needs of the pandemic without interrupting vital delivery of other life-saving health programs.” – Aliko Dangote, President and Chief Executive of the Dangote Group, created a private-sector coalition to support Nigeria’s COVID-19 response that has mobilized over 25 billion Naira. He is a member of the End Malaria Council.  

“Pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to infectious diseases, including malaria. It is imperative that we African leaders ramp up our work to sustain safe access to essential health services during this pandemic to support our communities and protect the lives of Africa’s future.” – Graça Machel, Founder, The Graça Machel Trust and the Foundation for Community Development and a member of the End Malaria Council.

 

Statement: Meeting the Challenge of COVID-19

Five years ago, we drafted Agenda 2063: the Africa We Want, to share our optimism about a prosperous future for Africa’s people, society, and economy. Critical to achieving this vision was a sustained focus on ending preventable and treatable diseases, like malaria, within a generation.

For the malaria community, we started off the decade energized by historically low levels of malaria deaths and cases. The Lancet Commission on malaria eradication report released in September 2019 concluded that malaria eradication “is a bold but attainable goal and a necessary one.” This sharpened our focus on the challenging, but achievable ambition of driving malaria cases and deaths down by 90% by 2030. Our optimism was well-founded, but not without challenges.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic puts our vision in jeopardy. The World Health Organization, WHO, and its partners recently published a modeling study that shows that deaths from malaria could double in 2020 if access to life-saving malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services are disrupted. This finding becomes especially concerning as we reach the rainy season in the highest malaria-endemic countries across Africa and in India.

We have an urgent opportunity now to learn from previous disease outbreaks—such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016— and take swift action to save precious lives, especially children under 5 and pregnant women who are disproportionately impacted by malaria. Taking action now will protect hard-won gains to improve standards of health and access to essential health services that have been achieved over the last two decades.

Combatting COVID-19 will require keeping people safe from malaria and maintaining investments that further strengthen health systems, particularly at the sub-national and community levels. Last week, world leaders showed global solidarity in raising more than $8 billion USD to combat the pandemic. We encourage leaders to use this funding in an integrated approach to control COVID-19 while maintaining malaria services as part of essential health packages, routine health services, and campaigns. Failing to do so may create double jeopardy: new deaths from malaria could dwarf the impact of COVID-19, and an upsurge in malaria cases could overwhelm already taxed health systems –compounding the human and economic toll.

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