Malaria Elimination in Africa Needs Participation of Local Authorities

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    Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE, Mayor of Freetown 

    By Ms. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE, Mayor of Freetown 

    When the Global Fund declared US$14billion in early October 2019 to combat AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria the world celebrated.

    With this incredible fundraising effort, there emerge the opportunity to kick-start a renewed effort to rid the world of three diseases that have killed millions of people and ravaged communities on every continent. Malaria was responsible for 228 million cases and 405,000 deaths in 2018 alone, with a child dying from the disease every two minutes. And whilst we are right to celebrate the outcome of the Global Fund Replenishment, the fight does not end there – more must be done.

    In 2016, for the first time in a decade, malaria cases worldwide were on the rise. Many people in malaria-affected communities still lacked access to the means to prevent and treat malaria, and in some countries, malaria had slipped down the political agenda. In response to this situation, the African Union Commission and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria are rolling out a continent-wide Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign, to reignite a grassroots movement and inspire everyone to play their part in the fight against malaria. Originally launched by the Ministry of Health of Senegal in 2014, with the support of Speak Up Africa and PATH, the expansion of this movement across the continent shows that malaria elimination is becoming a national, regional and continental priority.

    Since its endorsement by African Union leaders in July 2018, the Zero Malaria campaign has gathered momentum, with 12 nations now having launched their national campaigns and others soon to follow. On World Malaria Day in April 2019, Sierra Leone joined the ranks and officially launched its own Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign, known as “Malaria E Don Wan Dae Na Mi Han” in Krio. I look forward to seeing communities across our nation reap the benefits that this movement is bringing. My own city, Freetown, is home to more than 1 million people and we are certainly ready to step up the fight against this deadly disease.

    Why? Because in my country, malaria is one of the most pressing public health crises, with the entire population at risk of the disease. Around 1.7 million malaria cases and almost 2000 deaths were confirmed in 2018, affecting a high percentage of the 7.5 million inhabitants. While the disease burden is higher in rural areas, cities can and must get involved in the malaria fight. Ultimately, Zero Malaria starts with each one of us – all citizens have a personal responsibility to protect their families and communities from this preventable disease.

    In Sierra Leone, the campaign will look to secure political commitment, attract private sector funding and engage communities in the fight against this disease. The National Malaria Control Programme will also raise awareness at the community level through a multi-layered media engagement strategy and the involvement of key influencers within chiefdoms and local councils. This will also serve to amplify the impact and community buy-in for the upcoming mass mosquito net distribution campaign at the end of May 2020.

    In Freetown, citizens and local authorities are already working under the banner of the Transform Freetown Agenda to create a healthy urban environment, including community engagement campaigns such as the Cleanest Zone Competition to improve sanitation – which also helps to reduce the burden of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria.

    As Mayors, we have a key role to play in the fight against malaria. Malaria prevention and vector-control measures should be inherently linked to urban development strategies, including new housing and infrastructure projects. By investing in well-designed infrastructure and housing, improving access to sanitation and drinking water services, and promoting sustainable environmental management, we will reduce the malaria breeding sites and prevent thousands of cases.

    On World Malaria Day 2019, I was inspired to see Francophone Mayors come together to sign the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” declaration, committing to integrate malaria in urban development strategies in support of global efforts towards a malaria-free world. I urge other Mayors across Africa to tackle malaria head on through urban development strategies and encourage all individuals and communities to join the growing Zero Malaria Starts with Me movement.

    Those who are at risk from malaria today are real people, with real lives, real families, in real communities across the world. We must do more to ensure that these people are at the top of Governments’ priorities, and that policies are made to strengthen health and education systems and ensure that citizens have access to the services necessary to be protected from the deadliest creature on earth – the mosquito.

    So, will you join us?

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