Growing up in Angola, I witnessed the cruel and devastating impact of malaria, as well as experienced this horrific disease firsthand. Later, as a mother, I was grateful to have access to preventive therapies while pregnant so that I could protect myself and my two sons could be born healthy. Now, as a physician, I am committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community from this disease.
Thankfully, over the past decade, renewed investments and partnerships have driven remarkable progress against malaria. Since 2000, more than 3.3 million lives have been saved and global deaths have decreased by 45 percent. And right here in Africa, the number is closer to 50 percent, with eight countries that are on track to meet the WHO 2015 goal of reducing their malaria case incidence rates by 75 percent.
Despite this progress, malaria continues to kill more than 627,000 people each year, the majority of whom are children under the age of five. The disease also has broad repercussions for health and economic development, harming pregnant women and their infants, preventing children from attending and participating in school, and limiting adults’ economic potential and ability to invest in their families.
This week, on World Malaria Day, partners who have joined the fight against malaria will take stock of progress made and reflect on the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. While we should celebrate the gains we have made, we cannot become complacent. Our success is as fragile as it is remarkable and it must be sustained.
To continue progress against malaria, the global community must now, more than ever, reaffirm its commitment to ensuring that the tools to combat this disease reach each person in need.
Unfortunately, there is no “silver bullet” capable of eradicating malaria singlehandedly. We’ve seen again and again that combatting this disease requires a comprehensive approach that tackles the disease from different angles and with different approaches. We must deploy bed nets and other prevention tools, diagnostic tests, effective treatments and educational campaigns to combat malaria on the ground, while looking for long term solutions like improved drugs and vaccines.
Implementing an effort of this grand a scale requires ongoing collaboration and cooperation across the board to effectively leverage the expertise and resources of each partner. Perhaps one of the greatest opportunities we have is to fully engage the private sector.
As a physician for ExxonMobil in Angola, I have been inspired by the integrated approach the company takes to address malaria. Having seen the way malaria impacts workers, their families and communities in sub-Saharan Africa, ExxonMobil introduced a workforce malaria program and support for community malaria control efforts more than a decade ago. Our focus on the four ABCDs – Awareness, Bite prevention, Chemoprophylaxis and Diagnosis and early effective treatment – has been paramount to the effective control of malaria in ExxonMobil workplaces, the execution of our community outreach programs, and our ongoing support for malaria research and development.
In the past decade, this approach has helped avert an estimated 1,800 malaria cases among non-immune workers and, since 2007, no ExxonMobil workers have died from malaria. Similarly, our partnerships with leading malaria organizations are encouraging innovative and effective programs that address malaria from all sides. For example, in Chad and Cameroon, ExxonMobil supports a national multimedia malaria prevention campaign through Malaria No More and trains health workers to provide malaria prevention and treatment services—particularly for pregnant women—with Jhpiego.
ExxonMobil is not alone in our commitment to fight malaria. We are part of a larger effort of businesses partnering with the public sector to drive a comprehensive response to the parasite.
In sub-Saharan Africa, this joint support has made a powerful impact, and it is emblematic of how corporations can be agents of change across a spectrum of control efforts. ExxonMobil’s partnerships alone have helped distribute more than 13 million bed nets, provide close to 2 million malaria treatment doses, and train 355,000 health workers. When combined with other companies’ initiatives, these efforts translate into expanded impact where it is most needed.
As a community, we can build on these successes. Going forward, the global malaria community must remain steadfast in its commitment to leverage the resources of its partners and foster greater collaboration to expand the reach of these interventions. Together, we can reduce the burden of malaria – and build a more prosperous and healthy future across the continent.
Dr. Ana Margarida Setas-Ferreira is the Regional Advisor for Community and Public Health at the ExxonMobil Corporation
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