By Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
The global community has made real progress in the fight against malaria, with bold partnerships, innovative thinking, strong leadership and increased funding – all proving that we can do more, do better and reach further.
Fighting malaria is one of the Millennium Development Goals with the target to reach zero malaria deaths by 2015. As a global community, we need to take stock of where we are in reaching that goal.
Between 2000 and 2009, malaria deaths fell from 985,000 to 781,000. Eleven African countries have successfully cut malaria cases by over 50 per cent in the last decade, unquestionably helped by the 289 million mosquito nets that had been delivered across sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2010 – enough mosquito nets to cover 76 per cent of the at-risk population.
A major factor in malaria prevention is the proven method of distributing mosquito nets through mass distribution campaigns and then making sure that people know how to use them each night. Together with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Global Fund, USAID and others, the Red Cross and Red Crescent grassroots network of volunteers has strived to provide mosquito nets to every household at risk of malaria in Africa.
The results of these campaigns are to be applauded. Since 2002, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies have protected 25.5 million people with mosquito nets, helping save more than 420,000 lives in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
Nigeria carries around 25 per cent of Africa’s entire malaria burden, with all 153 million inhabitants of Nigeria estimated to be at risk of malaria. The disease causes one in every three premature child deaths. Nigeria has been undertaking universal coverage distributions with mosquito nets since 2009. Of the 37 states in the country, the IFRC and Roll Back Malaria have focused on Cross River State, using an innovative door-to-door approach to distribute and hang free mosquito nets in all households.
To date, Roll Back Malaria has distrusted about 29 million nets have been in 17 states (46 per cent of 2010 targets) with 34 million more planned by August 2011. This enormous undertaking is made possible through a combination of factors – political will, sustained funding from donors, coordinated technical assistance with partners, and implementation support by the national malaria control programme.
But nets alone are not enough.
Our volunteer network tested the efficacy of home-based management of malaria in Kenya. Supported by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, Kenya Red Cross volunteers provide access to antimalarial treatment in the most remote and inaccessible communities in Kenya. Treatment is made available at household level by trained Red Cross volunteers, bridging the health divide for people with little or no access to health services and information. Where volunteers identify danger signs needing treatment from a health professional, the Kenya Red Cross supports referral and transfer to a health facility.
We will continue to advocate for this approach for one simple reason: it works.
The power of partnership is the trump card in the fight against malaria. Malaria is the cause of great suffering and we can all play a greater role in global partnerships to support and invest more in the fight against malaria.
Together, we can achieve the greatest international public health impact ever recorded in history to make a difference to the lives of people most at risk. We still have a long way to go, but with continued commitment, we can stop people dying from this preventable and treatable disease.