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World Malaria Day 2020

How does Germany contribute to ending a disease that kills one child every two minutes?

Elhadj Diop, anti-malaria activist in Senegal, speaking to communities.

Overshadowed by the global COVID-19 crisis, malaria continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives around the world each year - the vast majority of them in Africa. Germany is one of the main contributors to the global fight against it. On 25 April 2020, World Malaria Day, we take a closer look at the challenge and German-supported efforts to eradicate it.

‘Before she died, Ami could no longer walk, and it was my nephew who carried her on his back,’ says Elhadj Diop, describing the last few moments of his daughter’s life before she passed away from malaria.

While the world is anxiously following the development of COVID-19, with schools, shops and businesses shuttered, health systems overwhelmed, emergency morgues set up and entire countries under lockdown, malaria remains one of the world’s most lethal infectious diseases.

It may be too early to compare COVID-19 and malaria, yet casualty figures shed some light of the extent of the problem. As of April 17 2020, COVID-19’s worldwide death toll claimed the lives of over 146,000 people and the disease infected over 2 million people. By contrast, in 2018, 405,000 people died from malaria – with Africa accounting for 94 percent of all deaths - while an estimated 228 million were infected.

Triggered by a parasite spread by certain types of mosquitoes, malaria especially endangers pregnant women and children under five, due to their weaker immune systems. ‘It is a disease where you have a fever for just two days – it’s not a month, it’s not a week, it’s two days,’ said Diop.

It takes at least a village to work against Malaria

Following his daughter’s death, Diop decided to return to his hometown Thienaba, Senegal, and began working on the issue from the grassroots level. Armed with a ‘mobile information cart’ – essentially a rusty wheelbarrow full of educational equipment - he went around communities informing people of how malaria is spread and what steps they can take to prevent it. Working on malaria involves ‘everyone’ he said – ‘the whole village, the whole community.’

Global malaria death rates have dropped by 60% since 2000 – a decrease which has saved millions of lives. But although the incidence rate of malaria declined globally between 2010 and 2018, after 2014 this slowed down, according to the World Health Organization. Now with global attention turned to COVID-19, the fight against malaria should not be adversely affected, experts warn.

How does Germany contribute?

German support in the fight against malaria aims at broadly strengthening health systems through which access to medicines and materials to fight and prevent the disease can be ensured in the long-term. One of its most important partners in this endeavour is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). Germany takes a proactive role in the Fund’s Governance.

Village malaria worker Meng Sophara educates residents of Khik Krom village, Cambodia

GFATM is the world’s biggest financier of AIDS, TB, and malaria prevention, treatment, and care programmes - activities closely linked to the sustainable development goal SDG 3 (‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’), and in particular the sub goal 3.3 (‘By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.) It funds education about malaria symptoms, as well as means of malaria prevention and treament. It supplies rapid diagnostic tests to community health workers and helps to curb the spread of the disease through the distribution of mosquito nets, insecticide spraying and preventative treatment for children and pregnant women.

Today, Germany is the fourth largest government contributor to the GFATM. It is part of the Global Fund Board, and also a member of the Strategy Committee. In these positions and together with other partners it is playing a pivotal role in shaping Global Fund priorities, notably on building resilient and sustainable systems for health, on improving the governance of national coordination mechanisms and on ensuring the correct use of funds through risk management. From 2002 to March 2020, Germany has disbursed over €3 billion to the GFATM. For 2020-2022, Germany has increased its pledge by 17.6% to a total of €1 billion. Of the current $ 12.71 billion in country allocations for 2020-2022, approximately 32% is spent on malaria.

The GFATM Data Explorer visualises very nicely where investments come from, where they are and what they achieve by providing pledge and contribution data, grant financial data, and results data at global, regional and country levels.

Developing an anti-malaria vaccine and new anti-malarial drugs

A malaria vaccine has been a major challenge for decades. Since 2006, Germany has been supporting the Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, a funding mechanism that helps give children in low-income countries access to vaccines and comprehensive immunisation. Germany is the fourth largest government donor to Gavi with a commitment of EUR 600 million in 2016-2020. In 2019, Gavi and other partners helped to finance the trials of the first malaria vaccine in Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana.

Germany also supports the work of researching an anti-malaria vaccine by the PATH initiative, an international nonprofit organisation that drives transformative innovation to save lives and improve health, especially among women and children. Through the KfW, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the Medicines for Malaria Venture – a not-for-profit partnership with a mission to reduce the burden of malaria in disease-endemic countries by discovering, developing and facilitating the delivery of new, effective and affordable antimalarial drugs.

Efforts to eradicate Malaria must continue full steam

The coronavirus crisis has put a population’s health prominently on every country’s political agenda. And this is where this topic ought to be, not just for the duration of the current pandemic. On Malaria Day, it is important to recognise and appreciate global efforts to eradicate malaria which need to continue at full steam. Trusting in these global efforts grassroots activists such as Elhadj Diop in Senegal continue their work in local communities. ‘If we throw in the towel and malaria returns, it would be a great loss for the whole community,’ he says. ‘We must step up the fight.’

Inna Lazareva,
April 2020


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