Ensuring Progress in the Fight to End Malaria Through Innovation & Collaboration

Ian MatthewsNews

In commemoration of World Malaria Day 2021, GBCHealth and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA) hosted Combat Malaria in Africa: Lessons and Opportunities, a high-level virtual event which brought together the malaria community to discuss how to ensure progress in the fight to end malaria during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The importance of private sector engagement and cross-sector partnerships for malaria elimination, like CAMA, was a key theme of the event. “I would really encourage private sector players to get behind CAMA and to bring their skills and capabilities to this fight [against malaria],” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. He added that the Global Fund values “the energy, the skillset, the capacities that the private sector can bring” to partnerships. Speakers also discussed how countries and businesses have adapted health programs in the battle against malaria in the context of the pandemic, as well as opportunities for collaboration to scale up malaria control efforts and increase impact. 

The event also featured the launch of the CAMA partners’ End Malaria Project: a call to action to support greater collaboration and coordination to achieve malaria elimination. The initiative has been established to catalyze private sector capabilities and investment to address this challenge. With the vision to end malaria across the continent, the End Malaria Project’s initial focus is on Nigeria.

Speakers offered regional and country perspectives on the impact COVID-19 has had on progress to end malaria. They described innovative approaches that health facilities have adopted to overcome challenges, including the adoption of new technologies such as the comprehensive tracking efforts for COVID-19 that could be adapted for tracking malaria, and direct-to-community approaches, with health workers and volunteers going from door-to-door to deliver bed nets. Investing in digital infrastructure will be especially important in tracking insecticide resistance among mosquitos. Hyperlocal data is a valuable tool for targeting the right interventions to the right locations, and to track how well interventions are translating into impact. 

The global mobilization effort to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided additional insights into the potential of dealing with an old pandemic like malaria. Several speakers urged that just as ending the COVID-19 pandemic has been framed as a vital effort to promote economic benefits globally, so too could ending malaria be viewed through an economic lens. Dr. Akpaka Kalu, Team Leader, Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases, WHO, said that the COVID-19 response was bolstered by the fact that “it was not treated as [just] a health problem, but a socioeconomic and development problem,” and therefore “We need to… see malaria as a socioeconomic & development problem that needs an all-society response.” 

In addition, the development of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments is leading the way to show how we can safely and strategically alter regulatory processes in order to meet urgent health needs. Regulatory barriers that prevent malaria tools from quickly reaching the people that need them should be addressed in a similar fashion. “We must… launch new generations of bed nets much faster than what we’ve done before,” said Michael Joos, CEO, Vestergaard. “This requires a full review of the regulatory pathway to market, so that we have faster adoption in the field, and have a faster evaluation of efficacy of bed nets in the field.”

Several speakers noted that lower rates of malaria diagnosis in 2020 was probably a result of lower rates of testing because of the pandemic, rather than a decrease in malaria infections. The number of likely undiagnosed cases of malaria is especially problematic given that swift diagnosis and treatment is key in preventing deaths from malaria. The continuing impact of COVID-19 on health systems and health service delivery for HIV, TB and malaria in low- and middle-income countries emphasizes the urgent need to scale up the adaptive measures that health facilities adopted to continue the fight against the three diseases and COVID-19. 

Speakers also highlighted the importance of community healthcare workers (CHWs), describing them as the “linchpins” of the fight against malaria, while at the same time recognizing they will be asked to play a key part in COVID-19 vaccination campaigns across Africa. To invest in malaria, we need to invest in CHWs. 

Creating effective narratives about the “story of malaria” and using communication tools that keep the disease front and center of the global consciousness are also critical. World Malaria Day is an opportunity for the malaria community to remind the world that malaria is “the old pandemic”; a disease that’s thousands of years old still kills hundreds of thousands per year and remains a threat that ought to be prioritized, not diminished by the spotlight of the global focus on COVID-19. 

Throughout the event, speakers also shared insight on business engagement and multisectoral partnerships for malaria elimination. “It’s not possible for the private sector or the public sector to [defeat malaria] alone,” said Roosevelt Ogbonna, Group Deputy Managing Director, Access Bank, speaking on behalf of Access Bank CEO and Group Managing Director Herbert Wigwe. He emphasized the “need for the private sector to galvanize capital and the entrepreneurship drive and spirit that is required to move any enterprise forward.” Platforms like CAMA facilitate resource mobilization for malaria by giving businesses and philanthropists an effective and direct way to fund malaria control initiatives. Michael Steinberg, Team Lead, Global Public Health, Chevron Corporation, and CAMA Co-Chair, noted the value of events such as this one, saying that the members of the malaria community taking part in the event “might have some of the same partners and not even know it.” He added, “We need to ask those questions [like] ‘Who do you partner in this region? Or with this government?’ We can have a lot of impact there.”

The private sector also must fight malaria through employee and community health initiatives and through developing innovative new tools. For mosquitos there are no borders, so businesses need to address the health of their workers as well as the health of the communities in which they operate, to support health systems strengthening. W. Scott Gordon ScD, Director, Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program, PATH, emphasized the importance of continuing innovation, saying “new tools, such as vaccines, are urgently needed to get back on track and to reach key malaria targets. We know how important [research & development] investments have been in the case of COVID-19… and in that regard, partnership with the private sector is critical.” 

Recordings of the event sessions will be available on the event platform until April 2022. This was the second meeting of a three-part series which CAMA is hosting with partners between March-May 2021. The first event focused on vector control in Nigeria; a recording can be found here. The third meeting, to be hosted in collaboration with Wilton Park, UK, on May 20, 2021, will bring a global perspective from thought-leaders, policy makers and potential investors to enhance political and private sector commitments and investments in the drive towards malaria elimination.

About GBCHealth

GBCHealth serves as a hub for business engagement on the world’s most pressing health challenges. It has a strong track record of catalyzing private sector investments and partnerships, designing platforms to build knowledge and multi-stakeholder collaboration, and creating tools to support companies’ ability to improve health and wellness in the workplace, in communities and collectively at a national, regional or global level.

Founded in 2001, GBCHealth continues to inspire business to leverage its power and resources to transform the health of society in innovative ways. Drawing on its network of hundreds of companies and partners, GBCHealth drives progress in the areas of greatest need including malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB and other epidemics; sexual and reproductive health rights; maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health; nutrition; and NCDs, areas where we believe the assets of the business community can have maximum impact as we work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and equitable health for all. GBCHealth also manages the Private Sector Constituency to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, serves as the Secretariat for the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa, is co-founder of ABCHealth, and continues to proactively support women’s health and empowerment and the Demographic Dividend through partnerships in the Sahel.

About CAMA

CAMA is a unique coalition of companies from various industries, all with business interests in Africa. CAMA channels the collective force and voice of the private sector to drive impact on malaria in Africa from workplaces to region-wide initiatives. CAMA is a platform for corporations working in Africa to share best practices, create new partnerships and gain visibility for malaria control efforts across the continent. CAMA companies both lead and support innovative malaria prevention, control and treatment activities and collectively deploy millions of dollars to programs that serve the needs of malaria-affected people and communities. CAMA also provides a forum for business to engage with and build relations with malaria-focused government and civil society stakeholders. CAMA is a membership-based Alliance. Learn how you can join CAMA at gbchealth.org. Or, contact us to see how your organization can become an official CAMA Partner

Ian MatthewsEnsuring Progress in the Fight to End Malaria Through Innovation & Collaboration