Experts to meet in Kuwait to discuss crucial health issues facing the region
By Hervé Verhoosel
Representative in New York and Head of External Relations
Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership
This week marks the 62nd session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean, where Ministers of Health and representatives from respective member states will come together in Kuwait City to discuss crucial health issues facing the region. Throughout the four-day meeting, experts will strategize how to best strengthen health systems and scale-up services to reach the region’s most vulnerable — particularly mothers and children – and save lives.
In perhaps one of the first meetings to take place after world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its seventeen ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ten days ago in New York, we cannot talk about strengthening health systems without talking about threats like malaria.
Placing half of the world at risk, the WHO estimates that malaria will kill an estimated 584,000 people this year. This preventable and treatable disease transmitted by mosquitoes disproportionately impacts the most disenfranchised: children under 5 represent 77% of annual deaths around the world; magnified in Africa where a child dies every minute because of it, and 15 million pregnant women remain without access to preventive measures to protect themselves and their unborn child.
Of the more than 200 million malaria cases estimated each year, over half occur in countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with twelve member states among the 20 most effected nations worldwide which in total account for roughly 80 percent of global cases.
But malaria gives way to far more than sickness and death. Disabling the education system and disrupting already struggling markets, the socio-economic consequences of malaria are hard to ignore. In Africa, some 4-10million school days are lost annually with pupils and teachers home sick, and it has been estimated that the continent loses $12 billion in lost productivity every year due to malaria.
While these facts paint a dark picture, a lot has been achieved in the past decade in malaria efforts. In 1998 when the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership was founded, malaria claimed an estimated one million lives every year. Since then, global investments towards malaria initiatives have gone from US$130 million to $2.7 billion annually, and more than six million malaria-related deaths have been averted since 2000 – 97% of which would have been children under five. Because of such investments, more than 100 countries are now free from malaria and the global Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for malaria has been achieved and in some cases even surpassed.
This tremendous progress would not have been possible without the support of the international aid community and the generous commitment of political and business leaders. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region in particular has been a proven ally in the fight against malaria, with The State of Kuwait, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, The UAE, The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia each supporting global malaria efforts through commitments to organisations like the WHO, the RBM Partnership or the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Now, with a new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a global goal to eliminate malaria, we must build on the progress achieved over the past fifteen years. To answer this call, WHO and the RBM Partnership have developed a comprehensive, forward-looking toolkit to guide global efforts toward elimination which was launched by the UN Secretary-General and several Heads of State in July at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abba.Adopted by all member states at this year’s World Health Assembly in Geneva – an action which Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO has called an endorsement of “the bold vision of a world free of malaria” – the WHO’s Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 (GTS), together with RBM’s complimentary Action and Investment to Defeat Malaria (AIM) 2016-2030 – for a malaria-free world – which is the result of broad, international consultations – provide the technical guidance and a framework for action and investment to achieve the ambitious malaria elimination targets outlined in the SDGs.
But necessary funding is lacking. In the short term, the particular funding gap in Africa alone amounts to some US$4.7 billion for the next two years, and 60% of this gap is in endemic countries of the OIC. And if we extend our view, US$100 billion will be needed to reach the 2030 malaria targets, with an additional US$10 billion required to fund research and development towards innovations in malaria, including new drugs and insecticides.
There’s no getting around that this is a high price tag, but the benefits we stand to receive if we eliminate malaria will far surpass the initial costs. We have already seen that for every US$1 we invest in malaria efforts in Africa, there is an increase in per capita GDP of US$6.75.If the financial targets outlined in the AIM are met, experts estimate that nearly 3 billion global malaria cases will be averted and over 10 million lives saved. In addition, our efforts could generate upwards of US$4 trillion of additional economic output between 2016-2030.Malaria has already proven and will continue to be a “best buy” in global public health. It’s a no-brainer – when we invest in malaria, we invest in health systems and drive progress against the broader development agenda. But if we don’t frontload our investments in malaria elimination now, the consequences could be devastating.
As we set our sights on the ambitious elimination targets our leaders have agreed to, we must also protect against our gains and prevent resurgence of malaria where we have beaten it. Since the 1930s, 61 countries reported a resurgence which was linked to a decrease in funding for malaria control and prevention. It is clear that even for countries in the elimination phase – like Saudi Arabia, which experiences regular mobility from within the region and beyond – the costs of inaction in malaria control programs could cause a drastic resurgence of malaria to the nation, and indeed the region.
The advancements we have made against malaria hang in the balance, dependent on political commitment and sustained financing. In the past we have been able to count on GCC countries for their support of and investment in malaria efforts, and I encourage many more to take on a more prominent role as we enter the next phase of the development era. Earlier this year at a World Malaria Day Event in Jeddah co-hosted by the RBM Partnership, IDB President Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali stated that “battling malaria is a humanitarian and Islamic duty”, and called on fellow OIC countries to turn their pilgrims into malaria ambassadors. Indeed, taking action to invest in malaria will not only mean a healthier population; but with effects such as long term economic growth and increased education, it is an investment of which we can be both morally and financially proud.
The world’s leaders have made a promise to all people of the world through the SDGs. As Ministers of Health from the region gather this week, I hope they keep malaria high in their agenda to help fulfill that promise as we take our first steps towards 2030. We have the tools and knowledge to reach malaria elimination, and now with the GTS and AIM, we have the torch to guide our way. Let us all do our effort to light this torch and carry it together across the finish line.
Mr Hervé Verhoosel leads the RBM office at the United Nations in New York and is also Head of External Relations, Communications & Advocacy. Mr. Verhoosel oversees external relations initiatives and leads certain international advocacy and resource mobilization activities, special projects, events and key relationships. Mr. Verhoosel also represents RBM at the UN headquarters, with diplomatic missions to the UN and with governments around the world in order to support the UN Secretary-General’s five year action agenda, including naming malaria a top priority in his second term.
The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) is the global framework for coordinated action against malaria. Founded in 1998 by UNICEF, WHO, UNDP and the World Bank and strengthened by the expertise, resources and commitment of more than 500 partner organizations, RBM is a public-private partnership that facilitates the incubation of new ideas, lends support to innovative approaches, promotes high-level political commitment and keeps malaria high on the global agenda by enabling, harmonizing and amplifying partner-driven advocacy initiatives. RBM secures policy guidance and financial and technical support for control efforts in countries and monitors progress towards universal goals.
Before joining RBM, Mr. Verhoosel was a consultant for the International Crisis Group and George Soros’s OSI Foundation. Prior to that, Mr. Verhoosel worked for ten years in advocacy, external relations and communications. He also served as Spokesman for a member of the Belgian Government.
Mr Verhoosel joined RBM in 2007.