Toward a Malaria-free future
By François Essomba  ·  2024-06-03  ·   Source: NO.23 JUNE 6, 2024
Group photo of participants at a ministerial conference on malaria in Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, on March 6 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Malaria is a potentially fatal disease transmitted by certain species of mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally in 2022, there were an estimated 249 million malaria cases and 608,000 malaria deaths in 85 countries. Africa was the location of 94 percent of malaria cases and 95 percent of malaria deaths, with children under 5 there accounting for about 80 percent of all malaria deaths.

At a ministerial conference held in Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, on March 6, representatives from 11 out of the 12 nations most severely impacted by the disease vowed to reduce malaria-related mortality by at least 90 percent by 2030, compared to 2015 levels. The gathering, co-hosted by the WHO and the Government of Cameroon, was also joined by global malaria partners, funding agencies, civil society organizations and other principal stakeholders.

The initiative, led by Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, is called Fighting Malaria in the Most Affected Countries.

While presiding over the opening ceremony, Ngute said it is imperative to unite resources to stop people from dying of malaria, which is still the number one killer in most African countries.

Ngute emphasized Cameroon's unwavering commitment to eradicating the disease. He revealed that Cameroon recorded over 2 million cases and 1,756 deaths due to malaria in 2023, with a prevalence rate of 26.1 percent in 2022, saying these figures justify holding this major event in the country.

Health ambitions

The WHO says Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda are the African countries most affected by malaria. In 2022, these countries recorded approximately 166 million cases of malaria and 423,000 deaths.

However, efforts to combat the disease are hindered by fragile health systems, lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure. Additionally, climatic conditions make these countries more susceptible to malaria transmission.

The Global Technical Strategy for Malaria Control 2016-30, developed by the WHO, aims to reduce the incidence of malaria and move toward its elimination within the framework of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals, adopted in 2015, address a wide range of global challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change and environmental degradation.

Specifically, it aligns with SDG Target 3.3, which aims to eradicate malaria and other communicable diseases by 2030. The specific targets for malaria reduction include reducing malaria mortality rates and decreasing the incidence of the disease by at least 90 percent from 2015 levels, eliminating malaria in at least 35 countries where it was endemic in 2015, and preventing its reemergence in countries that have been declared malaria-free.

Cameroon is among the countries that have demonstrated political commitment and taken concrete action to reduce the burden of malaria. For instance, it became a member of the Global Initiative to Roll Back Malaria in 1998. Additionally, in 2000, it signed the Abuja Declaration, which urges African Union (AU) member states to allocate at least 15 percent of their national budgets to healthcare.

Furthermore, the AU Agenda 2063, Africa's blueprint for achieving inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development that was adopted in 2015, also aims to achieve universal health coverage.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the significance of reinforcing these initiatives. "With renewed momentum and increased determination, we can accelerate progress toward a malaria-free future," she said.

Members of a Chinese anti-malaria expert team work with local volunteers in São Tomé, capital of São Tomé and Príncipe, on January 25, 2022 (XINHUA)

China's support

After 70 years of sustained effort, China has been officially recognized by the WHO as a malaria-free country. This marks a remarkable advance from the 1940s, when the country reported 30 million annual cases.

Congratulating the people of China on achieving the feat, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "This achievement is the result of a relentless struggle and is part of a focused and sustained effort over several decades."

China is among the countries which have demonstrated that a malaria-free future is achievable globally.

China plans to aid Africa in its fight against this disease, which remains a significant public health concern on the continent. Its aid includes treatment and preventative strategies.

The treatment is based on the use of Artemisinin, or qinghaosu, a substance derived from sweet wormwood (Artemesia annua), a medicinal plant called qinghao in Chinese that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years.

Holley-Cotec Group, which has been operating for 35 years, has developed a vast pharmaceutical industrial chain, including plantations, factories and extensive commercial networks throughout China. This has enabled it to supply the market with anti-malarial drugs such as Artemedine and Cotecxin for over 10 years. These products are marketed in over 30 countries, including 20 in Africa, and are recognized for their rapid efficacy and safety.

African people have expressed a desire for wider distribution of Chinese anti-malarial drugs, which have been consistently proven effective, particularly in rural areas, and for a reduction in costs to make them accessible to the most vulnerable. Holley-Cotec's management is working on addressing these requests.

Inadequate funding remains a major hurdle in the fight against malaria. The WHO has said $7.8 billion is needed to effectively combat malaria in Africa. As of 2022, only $4.1 billion had been raised. Between 2000 and 2015, there was a significant 50 percent reduction in malaria mortality. However, there has been a resurgence of cases since 2015 due to insufficient funding, jeopardizing the goal of reducing the mortality rate in Africa by 75 percent by 2025.

To attract more funding for the fight against this disease, Cameroonian Minister of Public Health Manaouda Malachie advocated meticulous planning of interventions, clear definition of areas of action, and dissemination of results and their economic impact.

Similarly, health ministers of Sudan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali emphasized the need to raise awareness among decision-makers about prioritizing the fight against malaria. They also highlighted the importance of promoting research to efficiently allocate resources and interventions that are tailored to local epidemiology. They called for more investment in health promotion and prevention, rather than in combating the disease. BR

The author is a Cameroonian contributor to ChinAfrica magazine

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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