Africa Leaders Summit presents opportunity to intensify talks on funding for malaria

Immunization at a clinic in Nigeria Immunization at a clinic in Nigeria[/caption] The African Leaders summit, being held in Washington on August 4-6, will seek to advance trade and investment opportunities between Africa and the United States. Fifty African countries have been invited to convene and discuss ways of stimulating growth and opportunities across the continent. The event, the largest any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government, aims to forge stronger economic ties between the United States, Africa and other global markets. The theme of the summit is Investing in the Next Generation, with debate focusing on areas seen as critical drivers for economic growth, sustainable development, and security in the region. On the agenda are food security, leadership opportunities for African women in government and across civil society and health. The latter will see senior health policy makers, Ministers of Health and African leaders discuss current constraints to achieving shared health goals, including malaria. Economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries is predicted to increase but will inevitably be uneven (19 are designated fragile and conflict-affected countries, 11 low income, 13 middle and seven upper-middle income). The International Monetary Fund predicts that four of the world’s six fastest-growing economies in 2014 will be in sub-Saharan Africa. Many countries are already seeing an increase in income per capita, although not necessarily an increase in quality of life, where issues around governance, inequality and access to education and healthcare are yet to be addressed. To ensure sustainable economic growth, continued efforts are needed to improve access to healthcare delivery systems, in particular in lower income malaria-endemic countries. Progress around malaria prevention and control has been well documented. World Health Organization (WHO) data shows that between 2000 and 2012, estimated malaria mortality rates decreased by 42 percent worldwide and by 49 percent in the African Region. Deaths in children under five are estimated to have decreased by 48 percent globally and by 54 percent in the African Region.  The African Union and Roll Back Malaria have supported national commitments to creating health policy frameworks and government investment in reducing malaria is having considerable success in some countries. Despite this, malaria continues to pose a major constraint to economic development and remains a critical issue in most sub-Saharan African countries. There were an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2012 (WHO), mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (90 percent) and in children under five. The facts are hard to argue with. A case of severe malaria can change the course of a child’s life: mortality rates from other health related causes are significantly higher and, for those who survive, 19 percent suffer serious neurological and cognitive conditions, including impaired vision, behavioural difficulties and epilepsy. And it doesn’t just affect children. In Nigeria, for example, malaria is the cause of 11 percent of maternal mortality. The loss of a mother substantially increases the risk of infant mortality, while malaria in pregnancy results in severe anaemia increasing obstetric risk and causes low birth weight. In a country where malaria is the leading cause of child deaths, gains made in reducing the impact of the disease will remain fragile without sustained political and financial commitment. Last year, during the Abuja Summit in Nigeria, African heads of state and Government committed to step up the mobilisation of domestic resources to ensure sustainable financing for health, including malaria. And it can’t come too soon. Since the 1930s, there have been 75 documented local resurgences of malaria, the majority linked to decreased funding.  Although countries with higher mortality rates and lower national incomes have seen increased investment in malaria control, especially in Africa, domestic government investments across the region are highest in wealthier countries and lowest in countries where malaria mortality rates are high. Malaria control has proven to be a highly cost-effective public health strategy. Lives saved from malaria are estimated to account for 20 percent of all progress in reducing child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, resulting in less infant and maternal mortality, fewer days missed at school and work, and increased productivity. It is widely accepted that poor health can undermine economic growth while good health can enhance it. Continuing to develop new interventions and strategies to prevent and treat malaria, including drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines, is crucial to maintaining progress and mitigate against the threat of drug and insecticide resistance. The African Leaders Summit offers a timely opportunity to address constraints to achieving shared health goals. For all 50 countries, discussion around intensifying malaria control and elimination efforts and should be high on the agenda. *Michelle Davis is Senior Communications Manager at Malaria Consortium ,an international NGO working in malaria, neglected tropical diseases and child health.  Malaria Consortium works in Africa and Asia with communities, governments and non-government agencies, academic institutions and local and international organisations to ensure evidence-based delivery of effective services.    ]]>

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