Why Investing in Malaria Control Matters for the Muslim World

The small bite of an infected mosquito caused an estimated 207 million cases of malaria in largely developing countries around the world each year. Almost half of these cases occur in predominantly Muslim countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)...

The small bite of an infected mosquito caused an estimated 207 million cases of malaria in largely developing countries around the world each year. Almost half of these cases occur in predominantly Muslim countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Earlier this week, the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership released an issue brief (hyperlink: http://rollbackmalaria.org/docs/2014/RBM-OIC-Booklet.pdf) outlining the important impact this preventable and treatable disease has on Muslim communities around the world. Of the 57 OIC member states, only 15 are considered to be malaria-free. In fact, 12 OIC countries are among the 20 most malaria-affected nations worldwide that together account for nearly 80% of global cases.

In Africa, Nigeria alone accounts for one quarter of all malaria cases, with 97% of the population at risk and more malaria deaths in the country than any other worldwide. In Asia, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan are the OIC countries with the highest number of malaria cases.

According to the WHO, malaria kills almost 630,000 people worldwide every year, of which approximately 560,000 are children under the age of five. These are lives lost for lack of a $1 course of antimalarial treatment or long-lasting insecticide-treated net that costs $5.

Through my work with RBM, I've seen first-hand the disruption and wreckage malaria imparts on communities around the world. Malaria keeps children out of school and parents out of work.

And malaria costs governments and societies billions of dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity. In Africa alone, where 80% of global malaria cases occur - largely in the 20 OIC countries in the region -, malaria costs an estimated minimum of US $12 billion in lost productivity each year.

But there is hope.

With stronger coordination and increased financing, malaria death rates have decreased by approximately 42% globally and nearly 50% in Africa since 2000, contributing to a 20% reduction in global child mortality and helping drive progress towards broader development targets across the board. Collective efforts - with increased financing and collaboration - have helped avert an estimated 3.3 million deaths between 2001 and 2012.

For OIC member states, strong political leadership and support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has meant that more than 55 million insecticide-treated nets were distributed to their communities and more than 75 million cases of malaria were treated in accordance with effective national guidelines between 2002 and 2010.

Today, 7 OIC countries have eliminated malaria, while 8 more are in the elimination phase and at least 14 OIC countries continue to work toward its elimination.

We have the proven and cost-effective tools to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria. And we know when these tools are made available, they help create healthy families and vibrant communities.

But we are at a critical juncture. While global funding for malaria reached unprecedented levels in 2012 at US $2.5 billion, this amounts to less than half of the US $5.1 billion RBM estimates is needed annually through 2020 to achieve universal coverage of malaria control interventions.

OIC countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone face a funding gap of at least US $1.7 billion for 2014 and 2015.

Our programs and policies are working, but if we don't continue to invest in them, we will lose the advances we've made. Now more than ever, we must find creative ways to work together to maximize the effectiveness of our efforts so we can sustain our progress and continue saving lives. This includes increasing national budgets and international aid for malaria and incorporating a multisectoral approach to leverage unique skillsets of all sectors on the ground.

A priority of the United Nations Secretary-General, malaria is recognized as one of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and impacts all eight. Malaria has been among the best global health investments, saving lives and accelerating progress in other development areas by reducing school absenteeism, fighting poverty and improving maternal and child health.

Beyond being morally compelling, malaria is a solid economic investment.

In 2007, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) hosted its First Islamic Conference of Health Ministers (ICHM) in Malaysia, where - among other things - Member States were called specifically to strive for malaria prevention and elimination. More recently, OIC Ministers of Health reaffirmed their commitment to a world free of malaria at their 4th ICHM meeting in Jakarta, where member states were urged to sustain commitment and work collaboratively, within and between sectors, and with international organizations to advance progress against this preventable and treatable disease.

With just more than 500 days until the 2015 deadline of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we are at a crossroads. Thanks to the tireless work of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria, Mr. Ray Chambers, we have seen tremendous commitment to overcome malaria and other pressing health issues. But more is needed. Our action now will forecast what results might lay ahead and stands to set us up for greater victory if we can maintain our focus.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership counts on endemic and non-endemic OIC countries alike to play a role in our global efforts against malaria. Increased national budgets for malaria control at the country-level will be crucial moving forward, and malaria must also remain a high priority on international aid agendas.

Many OIC donors have already committed resources to global malaria control efforts. The United Arab Emirates has led the way, supporting RBM financially from 2009-2014. The State of Kuwait has followed suit in 2012-2013, and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has pledged financial support to RBM until 2020. Many others have supported these efforts through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, including Saudi Arabia with its recent pledge of $13.7 million, Brunei, Malaysia, Nigeria and Tunisia. The Islamic Development Bank has also made malaria a priority, committing $50 million to supporting country efforts. RBM welcomes such bold commitment; we hope that other OIC member states might follow and existing donors consider renewing - or even increasing - their current commitment.

The path to malaria elimination won't always be easy, but the reward will have substantial implications for generations to come if we can continue working together to make smart investments. To be honest, we can't afford not to.

The Rolling Back Malaria in Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation issue brief is available here: http://rollbackmalaria.org/docs/2014/RBM-OIC-Booklet.pdf

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) is the global framework for coordinated action against malaria. Founded in 1998 by UNICEF, WHO, UNDP and the World Bank and strengthened by the expertise, resources and commitment of more than 500 partner organizations, RBM is a public-private partnership that facilitates the incubation of new ideas, lends support to innovative approaches, promotes high-level political commitment and keeps malaria high on the global agenda by enabling, harmonizing and amplifying partner-driven advocacy initiatives. RBM secures policy guidance and financial and technical support for control efforts in countries and monitors progress towards universal goals.


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