What 20 years of progress against malaria teaches us about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Ian MatthewsNews

By Kevin Murphy, President of the ExxonMobil Foundation

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed what we have long known to be true: investing in health is good for business.

Two decades ago, during the construction of a pipeline from Chad to Cameroon, ExxonMobil discovered the largest single loss of productivity was due to malaria – our contractors were becoming infected, or were staying home to care for sick children.

In response, we established a program to prevent and treat malaria among our workforce. But we soon realized that just as mosquitoes aren’t confined to worksites, infectious disease threats don’t respect borders or boundaries.

At the time, malaria was a global public health scourge: cases were going up, and a person was more likely to die from the disease than they were 30 years prior. With little political commitment and funding for the disease, no new treatments had been developed in over a decade. Only two percent of Africans had access to a bed net, and just five percent of suspected cases around the world were confirmed with a diagnostic test.

It became clear that the best way to protect the company’s employees and contractors was to invest in improving health in the communities where we operate. By working with partners to strengthen health systems and build capacity, we supported countries’ efforts to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to disease outbreaks.

The results have been impressive. No ExxonMobil employee has died from malaria since 2007. Over the last 20 years, ExxonMobil has invested more than $170 million in malaria prevention and control efforts, supporting the delivery of over 15 million bed nets, 4 million diagnostic kits, 5.3 million antimalarial treatments and the training of more than 750,000 health workers. With these global and local efforts, ExxonMobil has reached more than 125 million people in malaria-endemic communities.

In addition to these contributions, we have harnessed our private sector expertise and first-hand knowledge of the communities in which we operate to help our partners solve complex challenges. This has included supporting our partners through supply chain consultations on bed net distribution; medical research and collaboration with academia; monitoring and evaluation assistance; high-level education and awareness through marketing and advertising; and advocating with opinion leaders and policy makers.

Thanks to the efforts of governments and a diverse coalition of partners, the global malaria community has successfully cut the number of malaria deaths by more than half during the last 20 years, dramatically increased access to bed nets, and accelerated the development of new treatments, diagnostics, and the first-ever malaria vaccine. Since 2000, more than 1 billion cases of malaria have been prevented, which translates to over 7 million lives saved.

Ian MatthewsWhat 20 years of progress against malaria teaches us about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic