How can Africa’s private sector contribute to ending malaria in Africa?

First up Carl, congratulations on the launch of the Zero Malaria Business Initiative last month, can you tell us what inspired Ecobank to lend their voice to this cause?

Ecobank understands the power of partnerships to solve African issues. We leverage on our investments in African Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to assess the best way to leverage our platform for malaria elimination. We found in Speak Up Africa, a partner of choice, to advance a public private partnership to end malaria in Africa starting in 3 countries. Malaria has been a long-standing foe of our continent, responsible for over 400,000 deaths in 2018 alone, yet it can be eliminated. COVID-19 represents a renewed opportunity to think about health as an economic issue.

From a business perspective, we work with millions of citizens across Africa. We care about SMEs which create and maintain jobs. And we believe CEOs of SMEs have a dual role in their community as it includes lending their voice in the fight against malaria. Thus, the Zero Malaria Business Initiative sets out to encourage private-sector engagement in the fight against malaria, by advocating for stronger political will, greater funding, and more co-ordinated and driven elimination responses.

Sounds like a very worthy initiative. Can anyone get involved? How does this work towards the continent’s wider ambition to end malaria? 

The new Zero Malaria Business Initiative is an important pillar of the African Union and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria’s wider Zero Malaria Starts with Me movement. This pan-African movement was launched over two years ago and seeks to engage communities in the fight against malaria – empowering them to take ownership of local actions and develop tailored responses for their own communities.

Our new initiative acts as a voice for Africa’s private sector, and any business can get involved. We encourage businesses of all shapes and sizes to join us and use their position to help millions of people across Africa. We certainly cannot win this fight alone, and every contribution has some impact towards achieving our goal of malaria elimination.

So, do you think that the private sector has a role and responsibility to contribute towards malaria elimination?

Absolutely. The influence and skills that Africa’s thriving private sector can apply to drive positive change is immense. If we all work together to influence policy and increase funding, we can undoubtably influence a considerable shift in malaria cases and deaths.

The continent certainly stands to gain so much if it were to eliminate this dreadful disease. What do businesses and private sector organisations specifically stand to gain from malaria elimination?

Health and economics are interrelated. We cannot deliver on economic progress without healthy people. Malaria continues to erode economic progress. Therefore, it makes business and community sense to limit the out of pocket expenditures to treat a preventable and curable disease. It also demonstrates businesses’ ability to support government and civil society efforts in saving lives. The economic cost of malaria is well documented. This initiative wants to translate it into an opportunity for business leaders to act now so that tomorrow finds us without harmful mosquitoes.

What are some of the barriers the continent faces to achieving this goal?

Despite incredible progress made against malaria, and the commitment shown by governments, private sector organisations and communities across the world, the reality is that we cannot defeat the mosquito with the tools or levels of funding that we currently have. An annual $2 billion in additional global funding is urgently needed if we are to be able to reach all those at risk of contracting malaria especially pregnant women and children under 5. Whilst this seems like a vast sum, it is less than $2 dollar per African per year to raise the required resources to end it for good.

Finally, whilst the world battles COVID-19, why is it so important that we keep focus on other diseases such as malaria?

The global health community, in concert with local communities, has made incredible progress in the fight against malaria COVID-19 is a catalyst for health as a driver of economic transformation. The measures that it imposes to preserve life makes a stronger case for better SMEs in Africa. Decent jobs remain one of the best remedies to eliminate diseases. Thus, this initiative builds on Ecobank support to SMEs while offering CEOs a platform to pool their resources for impact. The miracle will come from doing prevention right such as distributing treated nets and other essential malaria prevention and treatment tools as mosquitoes do not obey physical distancing rules in times of COVID-19. The World Health Organization outlined that the current pandemic has the potential to double malaria deaths this year alone. We cannot let this happen, and it is critical that we work together to continue protecting communities across the continent from malaria.