In Africa, which is home to 91 percent of malaria deaths worldwide, victory against the disease is within reach. Yet to truly eliminate malaria, which claims one life every two minutes, we must put all of our energies to go “the very last mile”—the most difficult and important mile of them all. This not only requires additional funding, it also demands that we push deep into the most remote and low-resource settings in the world to make effective interventions acceptable and accessible to all. This week, five Anglican Church leaders from southern Africa arrive in New York to urge policymakers to rethink the role of faith leaders and communities in the fight against malaria.
“It is essential that we build on the established relationships that faith leaders have in rural and remote communities, for we are the readily accepted messengers, and in this role, we can not only help save lives, but advance a shared global goal to eliminate this disease from our region,” said Archbishop Albert Chama, Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa. “With the tremendous gains to build on, now, more than any other time in the history of our fight against malaria, we must also secure the funding needed to eliminate it,” Chama added.
Malaria claims the lives of approximately 445,000 people a year, 70 percent of whom are in children under 5 years of age. Among children, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of preventable school absenteeism in high-burden African countries is caused by malaria, which costs Africa $12 billion in lost GDP annually.
“Winning the battle against malaria is not a sprint, it’s a long, grueling marathon, and we must go the last mile,” said Neville Isdell, co-founder of the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, which is hosting the delegation visit. “It’s clear that if we are able to get a Coke to the most distant villages in the world, we can also get the essentials to eliminate malaria,” stated Isdell, who is former chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. He added: “But proven tools to eliminate malaria will not work if people don’t use them. The Church’s active work in communities to change people’s behavior is a game changer in the fight against the disease.”
Over a decade of unprecedented global efforts and resources have ushered in critical successes. In 2016 there were 21 million fewer malaria cases than in 2010. From 2007 to 2017, malaria deaths were cut by more than half. Among countries in southern Africa, Zambia is an exceptional example. Boosting government funding for malaria programs from $8.5 million in 2015 to $28 million today has reduced malaria-related deaths there by 70 percent in the past five years alone.
Isdell:Flowers, working with community religious leaders to strengthen surveillance, community education, diagnosis and treatment, seeks to couple an evidence-based elimination strategy with an enabling environment—of strong political will and financial support.
“With funding, perseverance and creative solutions, the fight against malaria is ours to win,” stated Christopher Flowers, CEO of J.C. Flowers & Co and co-founder of Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative. He noted that for every dollar we invest in malaria, there is a $36 return in increased productivity. “It’s not only a smart investment, it propels us toward the last mile and toward our collective aim of global malaria eradication.”
Archbishop Chama is joined by four Anglican Church leaders in the region: Bishop David Njovu, Diocese of Lusaka, Zambia; Bishop Cleophas Lunga, Diocese of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe; Bishop Luke Pato, Diocese of Namibia; and Bishop André Soares, Diocese of Angola. The delegation will arrive in New York City on Oct. 2, to meet with representatives at the United Nations and members of the Council on Foreign Relations, before traveling onward to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and students and faculty at Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA.