If you were sick with malaria, would you trust someone other than a doctor to treat you? Africare would. In fact, any one of the tens of thousands of African community members Africare has trained in malaria treatment would be perfectly capable of diagnosing and curing you if you suffered from a simple case of the disease, or referring you to a clinic for necessary treatment if your case were severe.
Thanks to concerted global efforts, there has been real progress in scaling up the fight against malaria. Life-saving malaria control interventions reach hundreds of millions of people, more than ever before. Since 2000, malaria deaths among children under 5 have dropped by half, and more than 3.3 million lives have been saved.
Despite this historic progress, malaria remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality for more than half the world’s population, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a child still dies every minute from this preventable and curable disease. We need sustained collective efforts to ensure continued success and free the world from malaria.
There are about two physicians for every 10,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Formal health care certainly needs to be strengthened on the continent, but the biggest problem is that for many Africans, formal health care is not a possibility. For more than 40 years, Africare has fought malaria and improved maternal and child health in Africa by bringing health services closer to communities, shifting tasks from the scarce and overstretched health care providers to community health workers. Over the years, Africare has successfully implemented numerous malaria control programs at the household and community levels in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and more. We have trained thousands of community members, especially women’s groups, in these countries on how to recognize and promptly manage simple malaria cases, and refer complicated cases. This way, if someone or their child falls ill, they can get support from a neighbor right when a trained hand is needed.
For instance, since 2004, Africare has been at the forefront of malaria control in Benin with support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and collaboration with Benin’s Ministry of Health and Country Coordinating Mechanism. The program initially targeted children and pregnant women in Mono and Couffo departments by training local women’s groups in malaria control activities. By 2008, the malaria rate in the two departments had plummeted by 73% while the national incidence of severe malaria had increased by 65% during the same period. Furthermore, malaria-related mortality in children under 5 in Africare’s intervention area fell by 84%, substantially surpassing the 18% decrease in the national average. Because of this impact, the project was renewed by the Global Fund in 2009 to scale up the program nationwide with a six year extension. Data from the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey shows a decrease in prevalence of malaria among children under 5 in Benin from almost 41% in 2010 to just 26% in 2011. In 2012, Africare procured 2.7 million long lasting insecticide treated bed nets and supported a national distribution of 4.9 million bed nets, and a second campaign is planned with a procurement and distribution of more than five million bed nets this summer in collaboration with Benin’s National Malaria Control Program.
In addition to the hard data demonstrating malaria’s downfall, communities where we work additionally attest to the progress they are seeing: ”We are spending less money on malaria treatment now,” “There are fewer days of school missed by our children now,” or like a village elder put it to visiting Africare staff, “Whatever you are doing is working, because my village is getting crowded. Children are no longer dying as often as they used to.”
Malaria elimination is within reach, but gains are fragile and threatened most significantly by funding uncertainties. Sustained efforts are needed to stay the course, and Africare will do its part, remaining on the side of African communities all the way until malaria is eliminated as a public health problem.