Cost of malaria fight 'offset by benefits'

Tamar Kahn | 06 May 2011
Business Day (South Africa)
Private sector investments in malaria control are good for the bottom line and benefit society, improving productivity and saving lives, finds a report released yesterday by Roll Back Malaria.

The report has been endorsed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which is hosting its Africa meeting in Cape Town this week. Malaria is preventable and curable, yet kills almost 800000 people each year, 90% of them in Africa. It costs the continent $12bn a year in direct costs alone.

The report analysed the economic effect of malaria control and prevention programmes implemented by several companies, including JSE- listed AngloGold Ashanti, and shows that the costs of malaria programmes are offset by the benefits.

For example, AngloGold Ashanti's $2,1m malaria programme in Ghana's Obuasi district saw the number of malaria cases at its mine hospital plummeting 76% from 6800 cases a month to 1000 between 2005 and last year, while lost man-hours fell from almost 7000 a month to 163.

"It makes good economic sense for us to have done this," said AngloGold Ashanti director for malaria control programmes Steve Knowles. Shareholders were often sceptical of corporate social investment programmes such as these, and regarded them as "a drain on their dividends", until they saw the numbers, he said.

WEF associate director for health Tania Mounier said at the launch: "Data on the return on investment (for private sector malaria efforts) are scarce and scattered, so this report is very welcome. The more organisations involved in making the business case the better (and) we hope more private sector companies will get involved," she said.

Roll Back Malaria, a global think-tank that advises agencies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, saw the WEF for Africa as an opportunity to lobby the private sector to do more to combat malaria, said its external relations manager, Herve Verhoosel.

AngloGold Ashanti, the world's third-biggest gold miner, is among the companies at the forefront of the private sector's war against malaria, and is among only a handful of firms to have received grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

It was awarded $133m by the Global Fund to expand its malaria control programme to another 40 districts in Ghana.