The global community has its sights set on malaria eradication. Anglican Bishops from Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe joined religious leaders from Catholic, Baha’i, and Islamic faiths during the J.C. Flowers Foundation’s Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative (IFCBMI) Round Table to discuss the critical work they are undertaking to advocate for malaria eradication within their religious institutions and with policy makers. The religious leaders spoke from their unique faith perspectives, acknowledging that each faith tradition cares deeply for its communities and calls upon its leaders to work for the health of their people.
Malaria – a preventable disease that continues to affect communities throughout Africa – affects all people regardless of religion, shared the Right Reverend André Soares of the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka.
“Malaria is a common problem for all of us,” he said. “All of us are victims to be killed by malaria. It is not the work of one church.”
Bishop Soares joined Catholic leader Eusébio Amarante (representing the Catholic Caritas of Angola), Marzeh Mileii (from the Baha’i faith), The Right Reverend David Njovu (representing the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka), and Sheikh Dr. Shaban Phiri (Islamic Supreme Council of Zambia) for an interfaith panel discussion at the IFCBMI Round Table on February 28 – one of several sessions that focused on community-based responses to malaria eradication.
Rebecca Linder Blachly, Director of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church, and Canon Grace Kaiso, Senior Advisor for the Anglican Alliance, spoke ahead of the panel discussion and recognized the capacity of religious leaders to contribute to malaria eradication by caring for the physical health – in addition to the spiritual health – of their communities.
“Religious leaders are not just message transmitters,” said Blachly. “Their strength isn’t just being able to speak to one issue on Sundays. Their capacity is so much deeper and I think we should all challenge ourselves to think through what that looks like.”
The Right Revered David Njovu of the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka represents one of the many religious leaders who has answered this call. In recognition of his leadership for malaria eradication Bishop Njovu was appointed to sit on the End Malaria Council of Zambia — an intersectoral group composed of government, private sector, and community leaders who support malaria eradication by mobilizing resources, engaging in advocacy, and holding governments accountable.
Bishop Njovu recognized the need for faith leaders to engage with politicians, build advocacy skills, and leverage and learn from the expertise of others.
“We need to ensure that in our own budgets and preparations, the issue of malaria is an agenda. It’s not only with political leaders, but within our own confinements, we need to make sure that we continue with the advocacy.”
Leading scientists, government officials, and communities affected by malaria were also present to discuss the engagement of malaria-affected communities, including faith communities, in the fight against malaria.
The renewed efforts of faith leaders to eradicate malaria comes at a time when global health experts are analyzing what it will take to eradicate malaria once and for all. The Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication’s report, Malaria eradication within a generation: ambitious, achievable, and necessary, released in September 2019, laid out necessary steps to eradicate malaria by 2050. The World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication (SAGme), which released an executive summary of its findings in August 2019, will soon publish a full report that analyzes future scenarios for malaria and reaffirms that eradication is a goal worth pursuing, likely to save millions of lives and billions of dollars. Experts involved in both bodies of research recognized the importance of community-driven responses to malaria eradication, as well as the development of new tools and technologies, increased funding, and national-level leadership for malaria eradication.
Dr. Richard Kamwi, Ambassador of the Elimination 8 Secretariat and contributor to the Lancet Commission, addressed the diverse group of attendees, and said malaria eradication will require new tools and new and intensified ways of engaging communities.
“Malaria can and should be eradicated by 2050, if we go beyond business as usual,” he said. “Eradication is affordable. Eradication is a good investment. The alternative to eradication is indeed untenable and could be disastrous. However, even with our most optimistic scenarios and projections, we face an unavoidable fact: using current tools, we will still have 11 million cases of malaria in Africa in 2050.”
Chief Chamuka of the Lenje people of Chisamba, Zambia provided opening remarks for the Round Table meeting, and emphasized the importance of collaboration with all partners and sectors of society in order to eradicate malaria.
Chamuka introduced attendees to the theme of the Round Table, “Zero Malaria Starts With Me: Engaging My Community,” which calls on every person, regardless of background, to play a part in the fight against malaria. “It is not the role of Isdell:Flowers alone, it is not the role of government, it is not the role of other stakeholders alone, but the chiefs must give whatever little resources we have to our people [for malaria elimination],” he said. “Malaria elimination begins with me, and indeed, it starts with you as well.”
Chris Flowers, Founder of the J.C. Flowers Foundation and Co-Founder of IFCBMI relayed a message of hope and commitment to end malaria for good.
“We embarked on the journey of this cross-border initiative in 2010 – 10 years ago – with a goal to support the countries to achieve malaria elimination,” he said. “Our dream is to see a malaria-free world, and therefore we are recommitting to partnering with governments to support their efforts in the fight against malaria with a continued focus on cross-border areas and the hard to reach, the ‘last-mile.’”
IFCBMI, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in Livingstone, is committed to eliminating malaria in remote, hard-to-reach communities along the borders of Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. IFCBMI partners with the Anglican and Methodist churches, National Governments, NGOs, and other funding institutions, and believes that malaria can be eliminated only if those most affected have the knowledge, skills, and resources to prevent and treat the disease and to advocate for its elimination.