Although notable milestones have been achieved in the global fight against malaria, such as an increase in the number of people sleeping under treated nets and increased adoption of modern diagnostic tools in the public sector, momentum has slowed in recent years.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), in the World Malaria Report 2018, notes that no significant progress was made in reducing malaria cases between 2015 and 2017.
In 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria worldwide compared with 216 million in 2016, a marginal improvement.
This lacklustre scorecard should serve as an urgent call to action, particularly for those of us fighting to eradicate the disease in Africa, where the prevalence of this horrific disease is the highest globally.
WHO reports that a staggering 92 per cent of global malaria cases in 2017 were in Africa, with 10 of the highest burden countries in the continent reporting increases in malaria cases in 2017, compared to 2016.
To reverse this trend, and ensure that malaria is consigned to the annals of history, we need to look at what has worked in the past and find ways to make it work again.
So far, the most effective approach in the fight against malaria in Africa – and particularly in Kenya – has been partnerships.
Funding for healthcare in Kenya, like elsewhere across Africa, falls short of what is prescribed under the Abuja Declaration.
The Declaration, agreed to in 2001 by African countries, requires governments on the continent to allocate at least 15 per cent of their national budgets to healthcare.
Because this is yet to happen in many countries, partnerships with players in the private sector and the NGO world have been key in bridging the gaps.
In areas like research and development for malaria vaccines, we have seen philanthropic foundations and NGOs step in, with an example being the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s funding of multiple malaria vaccination initiatives.
Similarly, we have seen the private sector step in to create awareness, which is key in spurring stakeholders to action and promoting preventive care.
As an example, RB Kenya’s Mortein Doom has over the years built a robust partnership with the Ministry of Health to increase public awareness about malaria prevention.
The partnership has focused on encouraging use of insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual sprays and hygiene tips to curb mosquito breeding.
In the long-term, the private sector can provide more effective market-based solutions if policymakers focus on reducing barriers to trade and lowering the cost of doing business.
This will lead to lower prices of much-needed drugs and insecticides, easing access to health while fuelling the growth of companies in the healthcare space, as low prices are key to growing sales volume and achieving economies of scale.
Additionally, policymakers also need to explore strategies of increasing health insurance cover, which remains low in Kenya.
Only 25 per cent of Kenyans have health insurance, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
The majority of Kenyans therefore pay out of pocket, creating a scenario where people only spend on health when the pain or discomfort from an underlying disease gets unbearable.
This focus on curative care — and only when its deemed serious after subjective self-diagnosis — limits spending on preventive care, which is key in ending diseases like malaria, where purchase of preventive tools like nets and insecticides are linked to a dramatic decline in infections.
Also, we should focus on creating awareness about the long-term solutions needed to regain momentum in the war against malaria.
One of these is revisiting the instrumental role of partnerships, particularly here in Africa, the primary battle field for this war.
All stakeholders ought to play a role in eradicating malaria in Africa, as the future of the world is intertwined with what happens on the continent today. The continent is young and its population is exploding.
According to the UN, the continent’s population is projected to double from 1.2 billion in 2017 to 2.4 billion in 2050, representing a quarter of the world’s population at the time.
Malaria is therefore not an African problem – however much the high prevalence rates may seem to suggest otherwise – it is a global problem that requires global solutions.
Global partnerships are therefore not only encouraged, but necessary if we are to win this critical war.
Mr Varma is the RB (formerly Reckitt Benckiser) country manager, East Africa