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Preventing Five-Year-Olds From Dying Every Minute on World Malaria Day

Key players must come together to tackle $ 3.7 billion funding shortfall needed to end malaria

Goodbye Malaria calls for government, business, and non-profit sectors to work together to eliminate malaria in southern Africa by 2030.

Malaria is a preventable and curable disease. Despite tremendous progress made to curb malaria in Africa, it still kills a child every 60 seconds.

The mosquito-borne infection costs Africa around $12 billion every year and in places where infections are recurring, up to 60% of school children have impaired learning ability.

South Africa had more than 7 800 malaria cases last year. Although community transmission is low, an outbreak could put nearly 5 million people in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga at risk of getting the disease. Bringing malaria risk to zero at home will not happen without coordinated malaria control efforts between South Africa, Eswatini and Mozambique (the MOSASWA region).

The United Nations Children’s Fund shows us that investment in malaria control falls short of the $7.8 billion needed to stay on target to eliminate it by 2030. This prompted African social benefit organisations to build cross-sectoral networks to take on malaria in southern Africa.

Goodbye Malaria has fought the disease in Mozambique, South Africa and Eswatini for over a decade. Its elimination campaigns, including the use of eight mobile units for testing and treatment at key border posts in South Africa and awareness drives, has kept more than 4 million people in the MOSASWA region malaria-free in 2023. A form of vector control called indoor residual spray (IRS) is also key to its success. Vector control means an intervention that stops the disease spreading from carrier mosquitoes to humans.

To eliminate malaria “you need to halt local transmission in a community,” says Sherwin Charles, CEO of Goodbye Malaria. He adds that only when local transmission has stopped for three years will an area be declared malaria free.

“We are not winning the war against this disease. Malaria is having a devastating effect, particularly on children on the continent. Protecting them from it needs to become a way of life,” says Charles.

Understanding malaria mechanisms

This life-threatening disease spreads to humans through specific types of mosquitoes that are infected by parasites in tropical countries. Early signs of malaria are fever, headaches, and chills within the first 10-15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito.

These symptoms are difficult to recognize as malaria and they can become severe or lead to death within 24 hours. This makes prevention tools essential to fight malaria – particularly in areas that do not have public health infrastructure.

Why prevention is paramount

Strategies to end malaria need to be comprehensive. Malaria nets alone will not prevent all infections because mosquitoes can bite people before they are under one. Medications also aren’t perfect because “more drug resistant kinds of malaria are emerging and they just don’t respond to treatment,” says Charles. When used together, insecticide-treated nets, medication and IRS, are all tools that improve efforts to control malaria.

Goodbye Malaria deploys teams of trained professionals to spray WHO approved insecticide in homes located in high-transmission areas. The goal is for malaria-spreading mosquitoes to die when they land on surfaces in the home.

A coordinated effort

Malaria vaccines are another valuable tool to curb the disease because they are effective at preparing children for the worst symptoms. Both RTS and R21 jabs significantly reduce severe malaria and death among young children. But the WHO estimates that at least 60 million doses of malaria vaccine will be needed in Africa by 2026.

“You can’t work in silos to solve this problem,” adds Charles. In his view, suppressing malaria means you need “partners who are willing to do the hard work.”

Even though Africa avoided almost 10 million malaria deaths over the past two decades, Charles says more collaborative approaches across government, business and non-profit sectors are needed to end malaria.

Goodbye Malaria leads by example by establishing innovative partnerships with organisations like Nando’s, Vodacom, Vitality Health International, Airports Company South Africa and Envu. “Partnerships present opportunities to make a significant impact in the fight against malaria, allowing us to move faster, together,” he says.

“It’s the only way we’re going to win the war,” says Charles. “Ending malaria not only saves lives, it unlocks human potential. Malaria is a disease of poverty and results in poverty. By investing in prevention and elimination we are investing in healthier and more prosperous societies.”


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