Empowering communities the winning formula to beat malaria

Published: 14 October 2010

Statement by Marwan Jilani, Permanent Observer of the IFRC to the United Nations, in the 65th session of the General Assembly, in New York

Mr. President,

Despite the many successes in combating malaria, this killer disease continues to take the lives of nearly one million people every year, mostly children under the age of five. And as we all know, malaria is a disease that is 100% preventable and treatable.

We have seen that countries which have achieved high coverage of their population with mosquito nets, as well as improved access to effective diagnostics and treatment, have made enormous progress in the fight against malaria. Countries such as Eritrea, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and Sao Tome and Principe have seen reductions in malaria cases and deaths up to fifty percent, demonstrating that the MDG targets can be achieved.

Malaria programmes being implemented by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will contribute to achieving the Roll Back Malaria 2010 targets and the UN Secretary General’s call for “universal coverage of populations at risk from malaria by the end of 2010”.

These programmes have focused on scaling up net ownership and ensuring that net distribution is accompanied by extensive and prolonged community education and empowerment efforts. In different affected countries, it has been shown that combining net distribution with follow-on “hang-up” campaigns, campaigns carried out by Red Cross Red Crescent trained volunteers in the community, significantly reduce the incidence of malaria. Combining distribution with follow on support and training is especially crucial to reach the most vulnerable groups, such as those living in remote areas, refugees, and people affected by stigma and discrimination.

Trained Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers who live in the very same community and speak the same local language are ideally placed to help families overcome any social or cultural barriers that may prevent the effective hanging and use of nets.

Since 2002, as a direct result of net distributions carried out by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and supported by IFRC, more than 300,000 malaria deaths have been averted, while 18.2 million people have been protected against malaria.

Furthermore, in a recently published report about the findings of a pilot project on an innovative approach to malaria treatment, it was shown that community approach works. The pilot project called, “Home Management of Malaria in Kenya (HMM)” showed that even in the most remote areas, providing free, effective medicines to trained local volunteers can alleviate both the malaria disease burden and the strain on the health system. The HMM project in Kenya reaffirms earlier studies that trained community workers can safely distribute and administer malaria treatment.

Mr. President,

The key message from the Red Cross Red Crescent is that communities must own the activities that support prevention and treatment of malaria at the individual and household level. To increase ownership and action, families must have the support necessary to understand the transmission of malaria and how it can be prevented through the use of nets and treated through accessing effective treatment at the first signs of danger.

Therefore, the IFRC believes the formula to beat malaria will come through empowering communities to comprehensively respond to the disease. When community-based volunteers provide knowledge, prevention and treatment options, communities are genuinely empowered to be the most effective first responders to this ancient scourge.

In 2009 alone, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reached 3.7 million households or 14.8 million individuals through community-based activities to prevent malaria and ensure care providers are aware of malaria danger signs and the need to immediately access effective treatment.

The IFRC will further step up its efforts by developing more hang up campaigns and cover more affected countries, as well as team up with partners to accelerate the delivery of nets to all malaria-endemic areas.

Lastly, the IFRC also includes a malaria component in its emergency response activities when disasters take place in malaria endemic areas or where epidemics are possible as a result of a natural disaster.

Thank you.