HEALTH: Keeping a measure on malaria
Keeping score: insecticide-treated bed nets are crucial in the fight against malaria
NEW YORK, 22 September 2011 (IRIN) - The African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) has launched a scorecard to improve the fight against malaria on the African continent.
“This,” said Agnes Bingwaho, Rwanda’s Health Minister, holding up the laminated scorecard, “is something that will help Africa make progress.”
Updated quarterly, it provides information from each country on policies formulated, preventative measures initiated, money spent, lives saved and lost.
The latest scorecard, launched on 21 September, describes, for example, how Angola and Burundi removed taxes and tariffs on anti-malarial commodities such as mosquito nets, medicines and insecticides. It tells how Côte d'Ivoire distributed 8.9 million nets in 2011, bringing the country closer to achieving universal net coverage. The scorecard also tracks tracer indicators for maternal, newborn and child health.
“The scorecard is very important,” said Raymond Chambers, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, “because it gives us the lens to see what’s happening but more importantly gives African countries the chance to compare how they are doing with peer countries and to improve where improvements need to be made.”
Founded in 2009, ALMA includes 40 African countries, all pledged to eradicating a disease that has no regard for borders.
Tanzania’s President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, ALMA’s chair, said the evidence proved the disease was “receding steadily”. Eleven African countries have slashed malaria cases by more than 50 percent, he said. Among the preventative measures he highlighted were the distribution of 229 million long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, providing coverage for 84 percent of Africans deemed at risk.
But he also worried about sustaining the gains. He acknowledged how deadly malaria remains to the continent’s inhabitants and how profoundly it hinders development. It is estimated that Africa experiences a 2 percent loss in GDP each year due to the effects of the illness, which forces people out of work and requires them to spend precious money on treatment, he said.
One issue central to the malaria fight is funding. It is necessary to both protect existing resources and identify new sources of revenue, Kikwete said. “There is a US$3 billion gap in funding that we are trying to mobilize,” he said.
|The battle against the anopheles mosquito and the malaria it transmits has been a long and painful one but there are signs the tide could be turning:
||The sterilization of male mosquitoes, which compete with wild males for wild females, is among the techniques being studied. Sterility can be induced by radiation or chemical application.
||There are also studies under way on the genetic manipulation of mosquitoes, which produces the same effect. Other approaches include the production of male-only sterile mosquitoes, notes a study in the Malaria Journal, Transgenic technologies to induce sterility.
||A possible malaria vaccine, merozoite surface protein 3 (MSP3), was tested in Burkina Faso with promising results.
Rwanda’s Bingwaho – whose country has seen as precipitous drop in malaria cases – noted that “we have made progress by an approach based on community, based on integration and, also a word we like to hear, based on country ownership”.
“Everything that we can do to help move ownership and responsibility of these issues back to the African countries and at the same time provide them with investment instead of subsidy is clearly a step in the right direction,” said UN Special Envoy Chambers.
Panellists also emphasized the necessity of cooperation between African nations, a particularly important issue since malaria travels easily. Kikwete said Tanzania, which he said has succeeded in eliminating malaria, was thought to have been clear of the malady twice before. But malarial mosquitoes, he said, travel by bus and on “ships, boats and ferries”. The disease has the ability to re-emerge if not contained in surrounding countries.
“More than 50 percent of all our cases last year were in one district of our country – the border,” said Bingwaho.
“The fight will not be won by any single country,” added Christian Chukwu, Nigeria’s Health Minister. “We need to work across borders and let’s all of us get more committed.”
Kikwete concluded that in this “interdependent world” a malaria-free Africa “is in the best interests of humanity. It means increased productivity, more income for our people, more trade.”
Then he added on a lighter note, “And there’s no more hassle of swallowing malaria pills every time you travel to Africa.”