International Partnerships Help to Fight Malaria in Africa

Jim Fisher-Thompson | 08 May 2007
AllAfrica.com

Malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that has killed close to a million people annually in Africa -- mainly children and pregnant women -- is being fought through international partnerships that emphasize African ownership in prevention and treatment strategies.

More than 90 percent of malaria victims live in Africa, where the disease has resulted in an estimated loss of $12 billion a year from the continent's gross domestic product.

"We can now celebrate the success" of programs in 15 targeted African countries whose goal is to reduce malaria cases by 50 percent, Admiral Timothy Ziemer, coordinator of the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI), told a May 3 seminar at George Washington University.

The discussion, "Defeating Malaria in Africa: Building on Success through Partnership," was co-sponsored by the university's Elliott School of International Affairs and the David H. Miller Foundation.

Ziemer was appointed to head the PMI in June 2006. The health effort, launched by President Bush in June 2005, is a historic $1.2 billion, five-year initiative headed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in conjunction with several other health-related U.S. agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There's room to be optimistic" that malaria cases in Africa can be steadily reduced through a combination of treatments with advanced drugs like artemisinin and countermeasures like mosquito netting and indoor residual spraying of insecticides, Ziemer told the panel.

Six million people so far have been treated for malaria or have benefited from prevention outreach since PMI was established two years ago, and an additional 11 million will be reached in 2007, according to a PMI fact sheet.

Africans' willingness to be real partners in malaria eradication also has been encouraging, Ziemer added. This partnership is "consistent with the U.S. foreign assistance strategy that looks for cooperative governments" that have a sustainable plan to address the health needs of their people, he said. "That's good community development and a good way of doing foreign assistance," he added.

The result has been the provision of significant funding from the United States, Ziemer pointed out. For example, in 1997 USAID's malaria programs in Africa totaled $1 million. But for 2008 the USAID allocation is more than $300 million, he said. "So PMI is a component of this government's commitment to community development and public health improvement in Africa," Ziemer said.

Adding that PMI considers itself "one of the partners in a field of many" battling the disease, Ziemer said Bush "also challenged the private sector to step up to the plate. And the good news is that there are many corporate, public-private organizations that are participating in this malaria fight."

International corporations like the Coca-Cola Company could be especially useful in helping distribute bed nets as a preventative measure against the mosquitos that spread malaria, said Jerry Chambers, an international management affairs consultant and pharmaceutical engineer with longtime experience battling parasitic diseases in Africa.

"They have businesses all over the world," Chambers explained. Anti-malaria programs could "piggyback" on their vast distribution networks, which reach into the countryside.

Dr. Mark Grabowsky, an officer with the U.S. Public Health Service currently on detail as malaria coordinator for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, told the panel that global malaria programs now are focusing on increased consultations with host nations.

"It used to be that we people in international health would sit in places like Washington" and dictate anti-malaria strategies to host countries," Grabowsky said. But now, he said, the emphasis is on "partnerships that harness U.S. resources to help African countries meet their national [health] goals.

"While this is a challenging way to fight disease, Grabowsky said, the advantage is that "it guarantees country ownership of these activities," which in the long run will make anti-malaria efforts more sustainable.

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