World Malaria Day: Celebrating and looking to the future

Malaria mortality rates have decreased by nearly half since 2000 – but a lot still remains to be done, blogs Thidiane Ndoye, Plan USA Deputy Director of Health, ahead of World Malaria Day on 25 April.

23 April 2015: In the last 15 years, Malaria has gone from being a neglected disease to one that is a priority for the international health malaria daycommunity and for governments. Plan International began implementing malaria programmes in the 1990s and began to form partnerships with governments, non-governmental organisations and communities.

We started innovating with bed net promotion and distribution before it was a generally accepted policy. As few manufacturers at the time were producing the nets, Plan trained local tailors to make nets and women’s groups to impregnate the nets with insecticide.

As a result, in 2013 Plan’s West Africa Regional Office received the Roll Back Malaria Award in recognition of the Plan staffs’ long-term commitment to malaria.

Plan is currently working with the Global Fund, the US government and other partners in 12 countries in West Africa and Latin America to provide communities with resources to take care of their health. Plan is promoting the use of insecticide-treated nets and has distributed (or participated in the distribution of) over 30 million of these over the past 7 years with the help of its partners.

Plan is also working with community health workers, who work with local governments, to partner on net delivery and are trained to provide home-based management of malaria, including screening, rapid diagnostic tests and medication.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a Plan-led project has supported 8,000 health workers and 905 community health delegates who have helped 3.4 million people with non-severe malaria in their homes.

A large focus of our malaria prevention work is also on behaviour change communication. Plan’s behaviour change strategy uses local media such as radio and TV, and cultural events to raise awareness, and pre-existing social networks for advocacy purposes.

A particularly successful example of this was in Togo where 2 net distribution campaign events happened in 2011 and 2014 and reached 2.8 million households and about 14 million people.

The efforts of Plan and other partners are transforming the lives of children in countries in which they operate. Huge investments by the Global Fund, the President’s Malaria Initiative, the UK Department for International Development and others have saved and transformed many lives.

The roll-out of 2 simple preventive measures, intermittent preventive treatment during pregnancy and insecticide-treated mosquito nets is significantly associated with an 18% decrease in the risk of death among newborns (2014 Roll Back Malaria Progress and Impact Report*).

Fall in mortality rates

A mother in a village 25km outside of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, told me:

“Before we started using the nets, my children were always sick, and we have lost many young lives in this village due to malaria. Now we, thank God, we barely have a child with fever during the year.”

The 2014 WHO World Malaria report shows that malaria mortality rates decreased by an impressive 47% between 2000 and 2013 globally, and by 54% in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

However, malaria is only one small part of a larger problem. While I was visiting a country in West Africa an elderly person approached and asked:

“We are drinking water with muds in it because we do not have a source of drinkable water. What is your organisation doing to get us out of this situation?”

This brings up an important question: how are we making sure, as an organisation, that we have a full package of interventions that address communities’ needs in a more systemic way and address the needs of children in particular? Our response to malaria works best when complemented by work in water and sanitation, an area where Plan has extensive expertise and experience.

I personally feel grateful to be part of this wonderful challenge. A lot of progress has been made and a lot still remains to be done.

World Malaria Day is commemorated every year on 25 April and recognises global efforts to control malaria.